The Armenian parliament accepted on Friday an opposition proposal to give its members unfettered access to people held in police custody.
An Armenian law already allows parliament deputies to visit criminal suspects and convicts for the purpose of protecting their rights. But such visits can be banned or restricted by investigators.
An amendment to that law drafted by the opposition Bright Armenia Party (LHK) would lift this restriction. The National Assembly passed it in the first reading by 77 votes to 21, with 22 abstentions, despite objections voiced by some senior pro-government lawmakers.
One of them, Nikolay Baghdasarian, said the existing legal mechanism contains sufficient safeguards against mistreatment of detainees. “This is why the parliament committee on legal affairs gave a negative assessment [of the proposed amendment,]” he said before the vote.
LHK leader Edmon Marukian sought to dispel concerns that criminal suspects’ unrestricted contacts with parliamentarians could make it harder for law-enforcement bodies to solve crimes. He also argued that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian advocated a similar bill when he was in opposition to Armenia’s former leadership.
“If this bill is not passed now it will mean that there is no difference between its interpretations by the current and former authorities,” said Marukian.
Another opposition deputy, Naira Zohrabian of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), voiced support for the LHK proposal. She said that she has been unfairly barred from entering detention centers “on numerous occasions.”
The LHK won sufficient support from deputies from the ruling My Step bloc to push the bill through the parliament. My Step’s Sisak Gabrielian said some changes could be made in the bill before its passage in the second and final reading. In particular, he suggested that the parliament consider banning deputies from visiting their relatives suspected or accused of various crimes.