There have been no political prisoners in Armenia for almost two decades, a leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), Armen Rustamian, claimed on Friday.
Speaking two days after Dashnaktsutyun struck a new power-sharing deal with President Serzh Sarkisian, Rustamian insisted that nobody has been imprisoned in Armenia for their political views or activities ever since he and other members of his party were controversially prosecuted in the 1990s.
Accordingly, he said, none of the more than 100 opposition leaders and supporters arrested during and after the deadly 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan was unjustly persecuted. Only the Council of Europe can determine whether an arrested individual is a political prisoner, he said.
“There have been no statements in the Council of Europe to the effect that there are political prisoners in Armenia,” Rustamian told a news conference. “It’s a fact. There is no list of individuals deemed political prisoners.”
In fact, the Council of Europe for years maintained that at least some of the mass arrests made in Armenia in the wake of the March 1-2, 2008 unrest were politically motivated.
Just weeks after the deadly crackdown on former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s opposition movement, an ad hoc body representing the Strasbourg-based organization’s decision-making Committee of Ministers said: “We stand behind the calls from many international organizations that those who were arrested since March 1 in conjunction with political activities should be released.”
In an April 2008 resolution on Armenia, the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) similarly demanded “the urgent release of the persons detained on seemingly artificial and politically motivated charges.”
The then Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, Thomas Hammarberg, repeatedly echoed those demands. “It is unacceptable to continue to hold in detention or to convict … anyone solely because of their political beliefs or non-violent activities,” he said in a September 2008 report on the Armenian crackdown.
Scores of other individuals have been described as political prisoners by Armenian and international human rights organizations. Some of them remain behind bars.
Rustamian was among dozens of Dashnaktsutyun figures arrested in 1995, during Ter-Petrosian’s presidency, and subsequently given long prison sentences on controversial coup charges. Ter-Petrosian banned the pan-Armenian party strongly opposed to him in 1994, accusing it of running a secret death squad.
Most of the jailed Dashnaktsutyun members, including Rustamian, were freed shortly after Ter-Petrosian stepped down and was replaced by Robert Kocharian in 1998. They were not acquitted, however.
Dashnaktsutyun supported Kocharian and was represented in his government throughout his decade-long rule. It initially remained in government after Kocharian handed over power to Sarkisian in 2008.
The party, which currently holds 5 seats in Armenia’s 131-member parliament, quit Sarkisian’s ruling coalition in 2009. It was offered to rejoin the government last month after strongly endorsing the current president’s controversial amendments to the Armenian constitution.