By Karine Kalantarian
The Armenian government plans to amend two articles of the Criminal Code used against the most prominent of the opposition members arrested following last year’s post-election unrest, Justice Minister Gevorg Danielian confirmed on Thursday.
The authorities seem to be thereby trying to prevent the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) from suspending the voting rights of its Armenian members because of the continuing imprisonment of dozens of supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian. The PACE is to decide whether to impose such sanctions next Tuesday.
Newspaper reports have said Armenian leaders told visiting PACE officials last week that they are ready to amend Article 225 and Article 300 of the Criminal Code in a way that would positively affect jailed opposition figures charged under them. The charges stem from the March 1 deadly clashes in Yerevan between opposition supporters and security forces. The clauses in question deal with provocation of “mass disturbances” and attempts to “usurp state authority by force.”
The PACE officials, who made no public statements in Yerevan, are said to have positively reacted to the pledge. Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian said on Wednesday that they returned to Strasbourg with a “better understanding” of the Armenian government’s position on the matter.
Danielian did not deny a link between the planned “revisions” and the PACE threats to sanction Yerevan. “I can’t say at this point whether or not there is any connection,” he told RFE/RL. “We discussed the issue with the [PACE] rapporteurs.
“I wouldn’t link it to the issue of the voting rights. But nobody can deny that new issues, new demands emerge during negotiations, and it is important to address them.”
Danielian did not specify what exactly Articles 225 and 300 will stipulate after undergoing changes. Nor would he say if their revision would lead to a quick release of the jailed Ter-Petrosian loyalists.
In the words of Armen Harutiunian, the state human rights ombudsman, the authorities want to “depoliticize those articles” in a way that would make it harder for them to criminalize opposition activities.
“I think many realize that the accusations brought under Article 225 and Article 300 are evidently unfounded,” said Lusine Sahakian, the defense lawyer of several opposition prisoners.
Sahakian suggested that the authorities are looking for a face-saving solution. “They don’t want to acquit people and admit that they wrongly kept people in jail during all these months,” she told RFE/RL.