By Armen Zakarian
An opposition activist arrested for his participation in anti-government rallies nearly two years ago will become the first Armenian citizen to have his case heard by the European Court of Human Rights, one of its judges revealed on Thursday.
Armen Mkrtchian is one of several hundred people who were fined or briefly imprisoned in the wake of Armenia’s disputed presidential elections of February-March 2003. He and five other oppositionists want the Strasbourg-based court to declare the punishment illegal and even force the Armenian government to compensate them.
Alvina Gyulumian, the Armenian member of the court, told RFE/RL that Mkrtchian’s appeal has been accepted. “The European Court of Human Rights has agreed to adjudicate on this case and I hope a verdict will be handed down in the course of this year,” she said in Yerevan.
Gyulumian added that the case will be heard by a panel of seven European judges, including herself. She said she will be “absolutely impartial” during the process.
Mkrtchian, who was a member of the radical Hanrapetutyun party until recently, was arrested and tried under Armenia’s Soviet-era Code of Administrative Offenses. The authorities used it to jail hundreds of people for up to 15 days both in 2003 presidential election and during 2004 opposition protests in Yerevan. The Council of Europe has repeatedly demanded the code’s abolition.
The so-called “administrative arrests” were also condemned in 2003 by Armenia’s Constitutional Court. Incidentally, Gyulumian was a member of the court before assuming the bench in Strasbourg in 2004.
Mkrtchian’s case is one of several hundred appeals already received by the European Court of Human Rights from Armenia. Only a small percentage of those appeals will likely be accepted for consideration.
The famous high-profile of the complaints deals with the 2002 closure of the independent A1+ television station. Speaking to RFE/RL last month, its lawyer Tigran Ter-Yesayan said he believes the court will agree to pass judgment on A1+ claims that the government decision to revoke its broadcasting license was illegal and ran counter to European norms.