By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The Armenian parliament debated on Thursday and will likely accept President Robert Kocharian’s proposal to call a general amnesty dedicated to the upcoming 15th anniversary of the declaration of Armenia’s independence from the Soviet Union.
The National Assembly is scheduled to vote on a relevant bill, presented by Justice Minister David Harutiunian, on Friday. The chairman of its committee on legal affairs, Rafik Petrosian, welcomed the proposed measure, which does not apply to individuals convicted of murder and other grave crimes, as “very humanitarian.”
“According to preliminary information, it would affect between 600 and 700 individuals,” Petrosian, adding that only about half of them would be released from jail. The others would only have their prison sentences shortened considerably, he told RFE/RL.
It would be the seventh amnesty in Armenia’s post-Soviet history. The most recent official prisoner pardon was declared five years ago in connection with the 1700th anniversary of Armenia’s adoption of Christianity as a state religion. It affected approximately one third of the country’s prison population which stood at about 6,000 at the time.
The number of convicts and criminal suspects kept in pre-trial detention shrunk further with the entry into force in August 2003 of a new Armenian criminal code that shortened jail terms for most criminal offences. The code’s positive retroactive force led to the early release of some 2,600 prison inmates. Official statistics show that the measure did not cause an upsurge in Armenia’s crime rate which remains one of the lowest in the former Soviet Union.