Stripping the country’s largest opposition force of its modest representation in parliament, the Armenian authorities have revoked the mandates of three opposition legislators prosecuted and convicted in connection with last year’s post-election unrest in Yerevan.
Parliament deputies Hakob Hakobian, Miasnik Malkhasian and Sasun Mikaelian were among dozens of opposition figures arrested following the March 1, 2008 clashes between security forces and opposition protesters. Despite their vehement protestations of innocence, Armenian courts found all three men guilty of organizing the “mass riots” in June.
Hakobian and Malkhasian were sentenced to five years, a punishment that allowed them to walk free in court thanks to a general amnesty declared by the authorities. Mikaelian, who was also convicted of illegal weapons possession, got nine years in prison and did not qualify for immediate release.
Armenia’s constitution stipulates that parliament deputies shall automatically lose their seats in the National Assembly if they are “sentenced to imprisonment.” Citing this provision, parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian signed on Tuesday documents formally depriving Hakobian, Malkhasian and Mikaelian of their mandates.
The move led the Central Election Commission to call on Thursday new elections in two single-mandate constituencies that have until now been represented in the parliament by Hakobian and Mikaelian. The polls will be held on December 6.
Unlike his two comrades, Malkhasian was elected to the National Assembly in May 2007 on the ticket of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) under the system of proportional representation. In accordance with Armenian law, the CEC gave his seat to another candidate who occupied a lower position on the HHK slate and, unlike Malkhasian, did not defect to the opposition camp ahead of the February 2008 presidential election.
Malkhasian on Thursday called his and his colleagues’ ouster from the assembly illegal and pledged to challenge it in the European Court of Human Rights. “We were illegally deprived of our liberty right from the beginning, and those illegalities are continuing to this day,” he told RFE/RL.
“We were always ready to surrender those mandates. We didn’t do that because we wanted to be able to show the European Court illegal actions taken against us,” added Malkhasian.
The three men were the last remaining members of the parliament affiliated with the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK). Another HAK parliamentarian, Khachatur Sukiasian, quit the parliament last week in protest against its pro-government majority’s March 2008 decision to lift his and his opposition colleagues’ immunity from prosecution. Unlike the three ousted deputies, Sukiasian went into hiding and avoided arrest in the wake of the 2008 unrest.
Levon Zurabian, the HAK’s central office coordinator, also condemned the mandate revocation. “The authorities are continuing the wave of illegalities, which shows that they don’t want anyone from our movement to be in the National Assembly,” he charged. “They are afraid of any manifestation of democracy and are doing everything to stifle the voice of the people.”