The Armenian Justice Ministry has drafted a bill calling for lengthy prison sentences for anyone who would create, lead or join a “criminal environment” in the country.
The bill submitted to the government on Thursday was recently posted on a government website but removed shortly afterwards. The Justice Ministry said on Friday that it will undergo some changes before being made public again.
The original version of the bill would criminalize associations of individuals defying “general rules of coexistence” and favoring other, illicit forms of social behavior. It says the purpose of such groups is to bully people, propagate violence and sponsor crimes.
Creation of the “criminal environment” would be punishable by between 4 and 15 years in jail. Reputed crime figures involved in them would risk between 10 and 15 years’ imprisonment.
Artur Sakunts, a human rights campaigner, welcomed the proposed measure. “The passage of such a law is more than necessary because we need to free the political system from the criminal underworld,” he said. “The underworld must also not have any involvement in the economy, politics, and [government] decision making.”
But Arshak Gasparian, a criminal law expert, was skeptical about the bill, saying that it does not set clear criteria for the authorities to identify people involved in a “criminal environment.” “Usually people at the top of criminal hierarchies are less personally involved in concrete crimes,” argued Gasparian.
Gasparian believes that the state should instead put the emphasis on preventive measures and start from schools. “Until we know what why in, say, 300 of Armenia’s 1,900 schools things are more conducive to crime we won’t be able to say how to prevent the emergence of crime figures,” he said.