Senior representatives of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) have called on the Armenian authorities to free opposition members remaining in prison and properly investigate the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan.
In a written statement issued late Wednesday, the PACE’s co-rapporteurs for Armenia, John Prescott and Axel Fischer, said that would ease lingering political tensions in the country.
“The ongoing detention of persons for their role in the March 2008 events, as well as the lack of a proper inquiry into the causes of the 10 casualties that occurred during these events continue to poison the political environment in Armenia,” they said.
“This risks having a negative impact on next year’s elections,” they added. “We therefore call upon the authorities to show the necessary political will to satisfactorily resolve these issues without further delay.”
Prescott and Fischer at the same time praised the authorities in Yerevan for initiating a “significant number of reforms” recommended by the PACE and other Council of Europe structures since 2008.
The two men met with President Serzh Sarkisian, other senior Armenian officials, opposition leaders and civil society representatives on a fact-finding visit to Yerevan last week. They avoided contacts with local media.
Two more supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian were released from jail during the rapporteurs’ trip. That reduced to six the number of oppositionists who were arrested in 2008 and remain behind bars.
The most prominent of them are Nikol Pashinian, the editor of the “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily, and Sasun Mikaelian, a former parliament deputy. Another Ter-Petrosian loyalist was arrested on controversial charges earlier this month.
Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) considers all of them political prisoners. The release of the jailed oppositionists as well as an objective probe into the March 2008 unrest are key opposition demands addressed to President Serzh Sarkisian.
Sarkisian and his political allies insist that none of those individuals was jailed for political reasons. They also emphasize the fact that the vast majority of Ter-Petrosian supporters arrested three years ago have been set free.
Justice Minister Hrayr Tovmasian said on Thursday that the authorities have the “political will” to free the remaining detainees on parole. But speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Tovmasian stopped short of explicitly stating that their release is imminent.
Prescott and Fischer gave no indication that the Sarkisian administration will come under stronger PACE pressure if it drags its feet in the next few months. They said they will submit a report to the PACE in September.
This means that the Strasbourg-based assembly will almost certainly again avoid discussing the political situation in Armenia at its next two sessions due in April and June.
The HAK has repeatedly accused the Council of Europe of being too lenient towards the Armenian leadership.