By Karine Kalantarian
President Serzh Sarkisian may yet declare a general amnesty for dozens of opposition supporters arrested following last February’s disputed presidential election, a parliament deputy from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) said on Tuesday.
The Armenian authorities have been under international pressure to release most of those detainees, and an amnesty is seen by many as a face-saving solution for both them and opposition forces led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian. Some government loyalists fueled rumors in late September that Sarkisian is ready to pardon the jailed oppositionists.
However, the president has so far confounded those expectations, granting individual pardons only to a handful of opposition activists who confessed to controversial accusations leveled against them. Also, law-enforcement authorities subordinated to him have pressed ahead with the trial of seven of the most prominent detainees charged with plotting a coup d’etat. The trial is scheduled to start on Friday.
“A general amnesty is a manifestation of general humanism, and I don’t exclude that the president of the republic will resort to that step,” said Artsvik Minasian, a Dashnaktsutyun lawmaker sitting on a parliamentary commission investigating the post-election unrest in Yerevan. “It’s important that that step be speedy and thought-out.”
Minasian, whose party is represented Sarkisian’s coalition government, told reporters that such a move would help to defuse lingering political tensions in the country. He also stressed that opposition detainees would not have to plead guilty in order to qualify for a general amnesty.
Some government officials and politicians have made a different interpretation of Armenia’s relevant laws, saying that an admission of guilt is a necessary condition for the oppositionists’ release.
Sarkisian discussed on Tuesday the fate of the individuals regarded as political prisoners by the opposition with Marc Perrin de Brichambaut, the visiting secretary general of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The presidential press service gave no further details.
The issue was also on the agenda of Brichambaut’s meeting with Ter-Petrosian held later in the day. A statement by Ter-Petrosian’s office said they specifically talked about the approaching trial of the seven opposition leaders. “Both sides noted the importance of deepening democratic processes in Armenia,” it said.