By Ruzanna Stepanian and Anush Martirosian
President Serzh Sarkisian has pardoned nine more individuals arrested and sentenced to up to fours years’ imprisonment in connection with the 2008 post-election strife in Yerevan, his office reported late Monday.
The presidential press service said all of them had appealed to Sarkisian for an amnesty. It said the presidential decree signed earlier on Monday also took into account their lack of prior criminal records as well as health conditions and family circumstances.
Sarkisian already pardoned in early December three other men imprisoned on charges related to the March 1 clashes in Yerevan between opposition protesters and security forces.
His latest amnesties reduced to approximately 60 the number of opposition members and supporters arrested in the wake of the disputed presidential election of February 2008. The move came ahead of a crucial visit to Yerevan by John Prescott and Georges Colombier, senior representatives of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) closely monitoring the post-election political developments in Armenia.
Prescott and Colombier were instrumental in the PACE Monitoring Committee’s decision last month to recommend the Strasbourg-based assembly to censure Armenia over the continuing imprisonment of dozens of supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian. Their visit is seen as Yerevan’s last chance to avoid PACE sanctions.
Armen Khachatrian, a representative of Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) dealing with the jailed oppositionists, claimed on Tuesday that all nine individuals were released days and even weeks before Sarkisian formalized their amnesty. He said two of them, Yeghishe Grigorian and Karlen Manucharian, had no ties to the Armenian opposition and were jailed for looting shops during the March 1 violence.
Speaking to RFE/RL, Khachatrian said another pardoned man, Karen Tarkhanian, asked for early release from prison because of his rapidly deteriorating health. He said he does not know yet what led the six other “political prisoners” to appeal to the president of the republic and thereby admit their guilt. The HAK representative speculated that they may have been subjected to “various forms of pressure” by the authorities.
Despite mounting Western and domestic pressure, Sarkisian has refused to call a general amnesty for all Ter-Petrosian loyalists remaining in prison. The Armenian president so far been willing to pardon only those detainees that have confessed to controversial accusations leveled against them.
The imprisoned oppositionists include Aleksandr Arzumanian, a former foreign minister who managed Ter-Petrosian’s election campaign, and three members of parliament. They as well as three other opposition figures went on a collective trial last month, accused of provoking the March 1 clashs in an attempt to topple the government.
The trial remained deadlocked on Tuesday because of the defendants’ continuing refusal to comply with a legal requirement to show due respect for the judge in the case, Mnatsakan Martirosian, by standing up during his entry into the courtroom. The defendants remained demonstratively seated in protest against what they see as a sham trial.
Martirosian again construed this stance as a “disrespectful attitude toward the court,” adjourning hearings on the case for the fifth consecutive time. The next court session is scheduled for Friday.
Koryun Piloyan, the chief trial prosecutor, backed the judge and accused the oppositionists and their lawyers of deliberately dragging out the proceedings. Piloyan threatened to demand that the trial continue in the defendants’ absence.
(Photolur photo: Journalists watch the trial from monitors placed in an adjacent room.)