The only opposition party represented in Armenia’s parliament said on Friday that it will ask Armenian and possibly European courts to overturn the state of emergency declared in Yerevan by President Robert Kocharian.
Parliament deputies from the Zharangutyun (Heritage) Party led by Raffi Hovannisian claimed that the emergency rule and the resulting suspension of key civil liberties is unconstitutional.
Under the Armenian constitution, the president of the republic can declare a state of emergency in the event of an “immediate threat to constitutional order.” Kocharian cited such a threat in a relevant decree which he signed late Saturday amid violent clashes between security forces and thousands of opposition supporters. The decree banned street protests in the capital and obligated local media to report only information provided by government sources.
Zharangutyun members and other opposition figures say the draconian restrictions are illegal because of Article 55 of the constitution which stiuplates that measures that can stem from a state of emergency must be specified by a separate law. Armenia has not enacted such a law yet.
Zaruhi Postanjian, a well-known lawyer and Zharangutyun parliamentarian, said this argument will be at the heart of a lawsuit to be submitted to Armenia’s Administrative Court by the party’s parliament faction. She said the Zharangutyun faction is also considering filing a separate suit to the European Court of Human Rights.
Citizens of Armenia and other Council of Europe member states normally can appeal to the Strasbourg-based court after exhausting all possibilities of legal action at home. Postanjian said she hopes the court will agree to take up the case in view of the dramatic events that followed Armenia’s February 19 presidential election.
In any case, the Armenian authorities will likely counter the opposition arguments by citing one of the constitution’s so-called “transitional points” which says that in the absence of a law on emergency rule the head of state may take “measures dictated by the situation.” Kocharian and Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian insist that the use of lethal force against thousands of opposition supporters who gathered outside the Yerevan municipality on Saturday night was justified because their leader, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, plotted a coup d’etat.
The clashes, which left at least eight people dead, followed the violent break-up earlier on Saturday of Ter-Petrosian supporters’ 11-day sit-in in Yerevan’s Liberty Square. Both the sit-in and rallies held there on a daily basis were not sanctioned by the authorities.
Under Armenia’s law on public gatherings, security forces can break up an unsanctioned protest only after telling organizers to stop it in a “reasonable” period of time and at least twice warning participants through a megaphone. Eyewitnesses say riot police and interior troops did not do that before attacking more than 2,000 protesters camped there.
The authorities say security forces acted quickly because Ter-Petrosian and his allies hoarded weapons, ammunition and even drugs in the square as part of their coup plot. Some of the weapons purportedly found by the police were shown on television. Opposition leaders say those were planted there by police agents.
In Postanjian’s view, the police operation in Liberty Square was illegal because security forces did not follow search procedures set by law. “Police officers searched the square warrants without any warrants and witnesses and touched weapons and ammunition placed there without special gloves,” she said.
(Photolur photo: Zaruhi Postanjian.)