As always, the Washington-based Freedom House rated countries on a seven-point scale for political rights and civil liberties, with 1 representing the most free and 7 the least free. As was the case in the previous survey released a year ago, Armenia received 6 and 4 points in the “political rights” and “civil liberties” categories respectively.
According to Christopher Walker, director of studies at Freedom House, the ratings based on the events the past year keep it dangerously close to being judged “not free.” “It’s actually right on the border between ‘partly free’ and ‘not free,’” he told RFE/RL by phone on Tuesday.
“On the sorts of things that are fundamental for democratic accountability, we really haven’t seen any meaningful steps forward,” Walker said. One of the key reasons for that is a continuing “very deep relationship between politics and economics” in the country, he said.
Walker also pointed to the lingering fallout from the February 2008 presidential election and the deadly unrest in Yerevan that followed it. “I think all of these things have contributed to a bigger picture in Armenia that really is one of great concern for political rights and civil liberties,” he said.
Walker welcomed in that regard a general amnesty which was declared by the Armenian authorities in June and led to the release of dozens of opposition members arrested in the wake of the disputed 2008 election. “But I think if you look at some of the other issues connected to the events of 2008 … there are some real concerns about how the Armenian authorities pursued this,” he cautioned.
“And this included the dissolution of the independent expert group that was looking into the events of that year and other issues connected to how the aftermath of the events was handled, which I think continues to raise some serious concerns about the degree to which the judiciary and other rules-based bodies in Armenia can function outside of executive control and with transparency and accountability,” he said.
The Armenian government will hardly agree with this evaluation. “Freedom House is taking a bit extreme approach to us,” Razmik Zohrabian, a deputy chairman of the ruling Republican Party, told RFE/RL on Wednesday. “It is putting psychological pressure.”
But Aram Manukian, a senior member of the opposition Armenian National Congress, said the watchdog should have been even more critical of Armenia’s rights record in its annual report. “The reality in which we live is much harsher and telling,” he said.
“They just want to treat [the Armenian government] a little leniently in the hope that things could change,” Manukian told RFE/RL. “But dictatorial manifestations in Armenia are only becoming more evident.”