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Armenian Opposition To Seek Court Ruling On Jailed Lawmakers


Armenia - President Armen Sarkissian addresses the inaugural session of the recently elected National Assembly, Yerevan, August 2, 2021.

The two opposition groups represented in Armenia’s new parliament said on Tuesday that they will ask the Constitutional Court to declare illegal the continuing detention of two opposition lawmakers.

They also pledged to challenge the legality of the election of the parliament’s speaker affiliated with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s Civil Contract party.

The speaker, Alen Simonian, was elected on Monday in a vote boycotted by the opposition Hayastan and Pativ Unem blocs.

The blocs nominated the jailed lawmakers, Mkhitar Zakarian and Artur Sargsian, for the post in a show of solidarity with them. The other deputies representing them walked out of the parliament floor and boycotted the ensuing secret ballot in protest against the Armenian authorities’ refusal to let Zakarian and Sargsian attend the inaugural session of the National Assembly.

Armenia - Newly elected speaker Alen Simonian chairs a session of the National Assembly, Yerevan, August 3, 2021.
Armenia - Newly elected speaker Alen Simonian chairs a session of the National Assembly, Yerevan, August 3, 2021.

The opposition minority claimed that the vote was illegal because neither man was able to address fellow deputies and answer questions from them.

“They cannot hold the election without the participation of the two other candidates and consider it normal, fair and competitive,” said Armen Rustamian, a senior Hayastan figure.

The opposition will therefore ask the Constitutional Court to declare Simonian’s election null and void, Rustamian told reporters.

Vladimir Vartanian, a senior lawmaker from Civil Contract, dismissed the opposition claims. “All nominated candidates were on the ballot and those who nominated [the arrested oppositionists] did not come to vote for them,” he said.

Zakarian and Sargsian were arrested on separate corruption charges shortly after the June 20 parliamentary elections won by Pashinian’s party. They reject the accusations as politically motivated.

Armenia - Meghri Mayor Mkhitar Zakarian.
Armenia - Meghri Mayor Mkhitar Zakarian.

Up until their arrests the two men ran major communities in Armenia’s southeastern Syunik province and openly challenged Pashinian’s administration. Two other elected Syunik mayors affiliated with Hayastan were also arrested in the wake of the snap elections.

The parliamentary opposition says that Zakarian and Sargsian are held in detention in violation of the Armenian constitution which stipulates that “a deputy may not be deprived of liberty without the consent of the National Assembly.”

Prosecutors and leaders of the parliament’s pro-government majority maintain, however, that they do not enjoy immunity from prosecution because they were indicted before formally becoming parliament deputies.

Rustamian said the opposition minority will ask the Constitutional Court to reject the “ludicrous” explanation given by the authorities. “We will demand an answer to this simple question from the court,” he said.

Rustamian again insisted that the arrested oppositionists are political prisoners.

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