By Armen Zakarian
Armenia’s parliament agreed on Tuesday to opposition demands to rule out eventual amnesty for the five gunmen that seized it in October 1999 and are expected to be sentenced to life imprisonment by the end of this year.
The National Assembly voted unanimously to pass in the first reading amendments to the criminal code that will deny life prisoners convicted of grave crimes the right to parole. The current version of the code, which abolished capital punishment in Armenia last April, allows them to apply for early release after spending at least 20 years in prison.
The opposition Artarutyun (Justice) alliance, led by two close relatives of Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and parliament speaker Karen Demirchian killed in the attack, wants to make sure that the gunmen spend the rest of their lives in prison after failing to have them sentenced to death. The initiative found strong support from the parliament’s majority loyal to President Robert Kocharian.
As a result, the opposition amendments were debated under a special speedy procedure reserved for important legal initiatives. The assembly is due to rubber-stamp them on Wednesday. They will then will signed into law by Kocharian.
The measure comes at the end of the gunmen’s controversial trial that has been going on since February 2002. Its verdicts are expected next month.