By Anna Saghabalian
Armenia’s top official in charge of human rights protection criticized on Tuesday last year’s government crackdown on the opposition, saying that it was accompanied by serious violations of civil liberties.
Ombudsman Larisa Alaverdian said the Armenian authorities breached the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of movement and assembly in reacting to an opposition attempt to force President Robert Kocharian into resignation.
“There were registered cases of police restricting transport communication between the capital and the regions ahead of rallies [in Yerevan]. Citizens’ right to freely move around the republic was thus violated,” Alaverdian told a news conference, presenting an annual report on her activities.
Despite numerous eye witness accounts and media reports, the authorities have denied that they routinely blocked access to Yerevan in a bid to lower attendance at anti-Kocharian rallies. They also refused to formally sanction any of those protests.
Alaverdian’s report says constant government references to “unsanctioned demonstrations” were at odds with the Armenian constitution. “Citizens’ right to hold peaceful demonstrations is upheld by the constitution,” she said.
The official, who was appointed by Kocharian last year, went on to denounce mass arrests last spring of opposition activists that were carried out under Armenia’s Soviet-era Code of Administrative Offenses. “Last year’s experience proves that the enforcement of administrative arrests must be reconsidered,” she said, adding that the legislation must be brought “closer to European standards.”
The Armenian authorities have until now refused to repeal the Administrative Code despite strong pressure from the Council of Europe and other international human rights organizations. One of those groups, Human Rights Watch, was particularly critical of their unprecedented crackdown on the opposition, describing it as a “cycle of repression.”
Alaverdian also said that most of the hundreds of complaints filed with her office by ordinary citizens over the past year dealt with violations of the due process of law. She said many Armenians complain about court rulings that are based on testimony extracted through torture and other illegal methods.
The ombudsman’s report admits that court bias in favor of state prosecutors is “constantly evident.” It also says the law-enforcement agencies rarely investigate torture allegations made by criminal suspects.