By Astghik Bedevian
The Armenian parliament will ease next month severe restrictions on freedom of assembly that were imposed by it following the post-election unrest in Yerevan, a senior pro-government deputy said on Tuesday.
The restrictions took the form of amendments to an Armenian law on street gatherings. The National Assembly hastily passed them on March 17, four days before the end of a state of emergency imposed by then President Robert Kocharian in the wake of Armenia’s disputed presidential election.
The amended law, which empowers law-enforcement authorities to ban anti-government demonstrations practically at will, prompted strong criticism from the international community. A partial or full repeal of the restrictions was a key demand contained in a resolution on Armenia adopted by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) last week. The Venice Commission, another Council of Europe body, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said on Monday that the authorities have agreed to “repeal or change the amendments” soon.
David Harutiunian, chairman of the Armenian parliament committee on legal affairs, confirmed this, saying that the changes sought by the PACE will enacted by the end of May. Still, he made it clear that the law on rallies will not be brought back to its original content that had been approved by the Venice Commission and the OSCE.
Harutiunian also reaffirmed the government’s stated commitment to complying with other PACE demands, notably the conduct of an “independent, transparent and credible inquiry” into the March 1 deadly clashes in Yerevan between security forces and opposition supporters. He suggested that such an inquiry be led by Armenia’s state human rights ombudsman, Armen Harutiunian (no relation). The latter has questioned the use of lethal force against thousands of opposition supporters protesting against the official results of the presidential election.
The former justice minister also questioned the credibility of Armenian prosecutors’ ongoing criminal investigation into the deadly clashes that has resulted in mass arrests of opposition leaders and supporters. “I think that there is still large room for increasing their professionalism,” he said of the investigators facing opposition allegations of a politically motivated witch-hunt.
The PACE resolution demanded “the urgent release of the persons detained on seemingly artificial and politically motivated charges.” Only one prominent oppositionist has been set free since its passage on April 17.