Pro-government lawmakers publicly criticized on Wednesday a Defense Ministry proposal to abolish a law allowing Armenian men who illegally evaded compulsory military service to buy a government amnesty.
Under the law enacted in 2004, they can avoid criminal prosecution in exchange for a hefty fee depending on the number of years they have spent on the run. The maximum fine was set at 1.8 million drams ($3,750) per person.
The amnesty-for-cash scheme was originally applicable only to those fugitive men who were aged 27 or older by June 2004. This age threshold has been repeatedly raised since then.
The parliamentary factions of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) and all other political groups represented in the National Assembly are now seeking another extension that would apply to male citizens who have turned 27 before December 1, 2017.
The Armenian Defense Ministry has put forward an amendment to their joint bill stipulating that there will be no further extensions of the scheme. It also wants to drastically raise the legal cost of the final amnesty to 9 million drams.
Lawmakers affiliated with the HHK rejected the amendment at a meeting of the Armenian parliament committee on defense and security. Among them was the committee chairman, Koryun Nahapetian.
“Our goal must be to help our compatriots who evaded military service because they moved abroad with their families at a very young age and now live there to return to their homeland, not to create additional obstacles,” said Nahapetian.
He argued that between 700 and 800 draft dodgers have been granted such amnesty annually since 2004. The Defense Ministry has received a total of 8 billion drams ($17 million) as a result, he said. Nahapetian also revealed that almost 9,500 other men remain on the run on draft evasion charges.
“What do we want to do? To throw those people into prison?” said another HHK lawmaker, Felix Tsolakian.
Tsolakian also protested against the much higher amnesty fee demanded by the ministry. “Armenians returning from Russia come back because they don’t have money. They didn’t succeed there,” he reasoned.
Deputy Defense Minister Artak Zakarian insisted, however, that keeping the conditional amnesty would only encourage more draft evasion. “We very much want our citizens to come back but at the same time we must not keep that door open for others to flee,” said Zakarian, who is also affiliated with the HHK.
The parliament committee will again meet on Friday to formulate its final position on the measure that has been personally advocated by Defense Minister Vigen Sargsian.