By Emil Danielyan
Armenia remains a “partly free” country while having a better human and civil rights record than most other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States, according to a respected U.S. watchdog.
In an annual survey released late Tuesday, the New York-based Freedom House rated more than 200 countries and territories in terms of their respect for political rights and civil liberties. Each of them was evaluated on a 7-point scale, with a rating of 1 indicating the highest degree of freedom and 7 its virtual absence.
Armenia’s average score of 4.5 put it into the category of 58 “partly free” independent states. Freedom House pointed, among other things, to the country’s post-Soviet history of electoral fraud and accused its government of continuing to abuse human rights and limit civil liberties.
“Armenia is not an electoral democracy,” it said in its latest Freedom in the World survey.
The survey covered the events of last year and did not take into consideration the Armenian authorities’ handling of the May 12 parliamentary elections. Western observers described the vote as a major improvement over the previous Armenian elections marred by serious fraud.
Freedom House again found “considerable limits on press freedom” in Armenia, citing the government’s tight grip on electronic media. It also deplored a lack of judicial independence and widespread ill-treatment of suspects in custody.
“Police make arbitrary arrests without warrants, beat detainees during arrest and interrogation, and use torture to extract confessions,” reads the report. “Cases of abuse go unreported out of fear of retribution.”
Freedom House also faulted the government in Yerevan for restricting freedom of assembly. “The authorities’ violent response to spring 2004 protests [by the opposition] represented a low point for freedom of assembly in Armenia,” it said.
Also designated as “partly free” were three other CIS countries, including neighboring Georgia. With an average score of 3, Georgia moved close to being rated “free” by Freedom House. The human rights watchdog singled out it as one of the few “relatively bright spots” in the CIS, citing the Georgian government’s extensive reform agenda.
Armenia’s other ex-Soviet neighbor, Azerbaijan, was again found to be “not free” along with Russia and five other ex-Soviet republics.
Freedom House also assessed the state of freedom in over a dozen dispute territories of the world, including Nagorno-Karabakh. It described the Armenian-controlled region as “partly free.”