A senior European Union diplomat reacted on Friday with caution to the controversial arrest of an Armenian opposition figure, Samvel Babayan, urging the authorities in Yerevan to conduct a “transparent” investigation.
Piotr Switalski, the head of the EU Delegation in Yerevan, also stressed the importance of “preventing violence” in Armenia.
Babayan, who is close to the ORO opposition alliance, was arrested by the National Security Service (NSS) on Wednesday on suspicion of smuggling a shoulder-fired surface-to-air rocket system to Armenia. The NSS has still not commented on the purpose of the alleged weapons acquisition denied by Babayan.
Babayan was not formally charged as ofFriday evening. The ORO leaders, among them former Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian, have condemned his arrest as politically motivated and linked it with the upcoming parliamentary elections.
“We believe that all disputes, all complaints, all conflicts should be settled in courts and should be settled peacefully,” Switalski said, commenting on the high-profile case. “Therefore, for the European Union, the question of preventing violence is very important. We believe that the primary responsibility for preventing violence and reacting to possible disturbance of public peace lies with the law-enforcement authorities.”
“Therefore, all these procedures should be very transparent,” Switalski went on. “If there is a suspicion that something wrong is being prepared or happening, we believe that the law-enforcement agencies should act in full transparency so that the population, the voters have the confidence that it is not done for political purposes, that it is not done to intimidate other voters but it is done in accordance with the rule of law.”
Ohanian insisted late on Thursday that Babayan’s arrest is aimed at weakening his bloc ahead of the April 2 elections. “I want to declare that we will fight for his rights till the end and won’t let these authorities achieve their goals with fabricated activities,” he warned.
Another ORO leader, Raffi Hovannisian, described Babayan, who is a retired army general, as a political prisoner. “Samvel Babayan is in jail because he supports our alliance,” he told journalists.
Hovannisian also said that the elections will result in a “constitutional revolution” in Armenia. The authorities will face “resistance” if they rig the vote, he said.
Switalski sounded more optimistic about the conduct of the elections. “The European Union is working on the basis of a positive scenario,” said the EU envoy. “We want very much these elections to mark a new quality in democratic practices in Armenia and we are preparing our support activities on the basis that these elections will open a new chapter.”
He again indicated that Yerevan should expect more EU aid if the polls meet democratic standards.
Earlier this year, the EU provided Armenia with over $7 million in funding for the purchase of special electronic equipment designed to prevent some forms of electoral fraud.