President Serzh Sarkisian on Friday formally asked the Armenian parliament to declare a general amnesty, a move which is expected to lead to the release of all Armenian opposition members remaining in prison. (UPDATED)
In a short statement, Sarkisian’s office said the amnesty would be dedicated to the 20th anniversary of Armenia’s independence to be celebrated in September. It did not specify which prisoners will be eligible for early release.
Sources told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that under a relevant bill drafted by Sarkisian’s staff, some 400 convicts will be freed while about 2,000 others will have their prison sentences shortened. Other details of the proposed amnesty are not yet known.
Victor Dallakian, an independent parliamentarian thought to be familiar with the president’s thinking, suggested that the amnesty will apply to all jailed oppositionists.
The parliament committee on legal affairs discussed the bill behind the closed doors less than an hour after parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian received it from the presidential administration. Abrahamian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that it will be debated by the full National Assembly early next week.
“I think this step once again shows that the state is headed by an individual who carries state and national values and who is taking steps to spread solidarity and unity in the country,” said Eduard Sharmazanov, a senior lawmaker and spokesman for Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia.
The National Assembly, which is dominated by government loyalists, already declared an amnesty two years ago, resulting in the liberation of hundreds of convicts. Among them were several dozen allies and supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian who were controversially imprisoned following the 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan.
Six other Armenian oppositionists are still behind bars. Sarkisian hinted at their impending release as he made a number of concessions to Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) late last month.
Those concessions included the lifting of a de facto government ban on opposition rallies in a key Yerevan square and a renewed investigation into the March 2008 deadly clashes between security forces and Ter-Petrosian supporters demanding the rerun of a disputed presidential election.
Speaking at an HAK rally later in April, Ter-Petrosian declared that the Sarkisian administration has essentially met his three main preconditions for the start of a “dialogue” with his opposition alliance. He predicted that all remaining “political prisoners” will be set free before the next HAK protest scheduled for May 31.
Ter-Petrosian also made clear that the HAK will avoid another potentially violent standoff with the Armenian authorities.
The HAK launched in February a fresh campaign of anti-government street protests that were clearly inspired by popular uprisings in several Arab states. Ter-Petrosian and his associates warned Sarkisian to call fresh national elections or face a similar revolt.