The Armenian government will add more safeguards against the possible use of armed forces against political dissent to its controversial draft law on emergency rule, Justice Minister Hrayr Tovmasian said on Thursday.
The bill strongly criticized by the opposition was passed in the first reading two weeks ago only to be withdrawn from the National Assembly on Wednesday. A spokesman for Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian said it will be sent back to the parliament after undergoing some changes.
Tovmasian detailed those changes as he spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) and the “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily the next day. He said Armenian army units would be assigned to enforce a state of emergency only after undergoing “special training.” The bill also “almost exclude” physical contact between military personnel and civilians.
“First, the troops will not be used if there are sufficient forces deployed by the police and the National Security Service,” explained Tovmasian. “Second, if there are riots and similar incidents, then it’s the police that will have to be in contact [with people] and the armed forces will have to only protect strategic facilities.”
Vahe Grigorian, a human rights lawyer who has dealt with politically charged criminal cases, dismissed this explanation, saying that the bill may still run counter to Armenia’s constitution which mandates the army’s neutrality in political battles. “It makes no sense to invent other safeguards,” Grigorian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Opposition deputies made a similar point whey they voiced strong objections to the proposed legislation earlier this month. They claim that the authorities are keen to create more legal grounds for the use of lethal force against the opposition ahead of next May’s parliamentary elections.
But Tovmasian denied any connection between the bill and the elections. “I’m sure there will be no state of emergency [after the vote,]” he said.
The minister also claimed that the opposition criticism was not the main reason why the bill was withdrawn from the parliament agenda. He said the government simply wants to enact it simultaneously with a separate new law that will set administrative punishment for violations of emergency rule.