Armenian Parliament to Ease Ban On Opposition Rallies

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Armenian parliament will ease next month restrictions on public demonstrations that were established following the post-election unrest in Yerevan, a senior pro-government deputy said on Tuesday.
The restrictions took the form of amendmen’s to an Armenian law on street gatherings. The National Assembly passed them on March 17, four days before the end of a state of emergency initiated by then President Robert Kocharian in the wake of Armenia’s disputed presidential election.
The amended law, which empowers law-enforcement authorities to prohibit anti-government demonstrations, prompted strong criticism from the international community. A partial or full repeal of the restrictions was a key demand contained in a resolution on Armenia adopted by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) last week.
The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission Tuesday welcomed the agreement reached with leading Armenian state representatives to make changes to the recently-amended assembly law.
"We see this agreement as another step in the long-standing cooperation between the Armenian authorities, the ODIHR and the Venice Commission on the legislative regulation of public assemblies," said Ambassador Christian Strohal, ODIHR Director.
"The Venice Commission and the ODIHR look forward to receiving the drafts of the new amendmen’s and stand ready to review them in light of relevant international standards," added Gianni Buquicchio, Secretary of the Venice Commission.
David Harutiunian, chairman of the Armenian parliament committee on legal affairs, confirmed the move, saying that the changes sought by the PACE will be enacted by the end of May. Still, he made it clear that the law on rallies will not be brought back to its original content that had been approved by the Venice Commission and the OSCE.
Harutiunian also reaffirmed the government’s stated commitment to complying with other PACE deman’s, notably the conduct of an "independent, transparent and credible inquiry" into the March 1 deadly clashes in Yerevan between security forces and opposition supporters. He suggested that such an inquiry be led by Armenia’s state human rights ombudsman, Armen Harutiunian (no relation). The latter has questioned the use of lethal force against thousands of opposition supporters protesting against the official results of the presidential election.
The former justice minister also questioned the credibility of Armenian prosecutors’ ongoing criminal investigation into the deadly clashes that has resulted in mass arrests of opposition leaders and supporters. "I think that there is still large room for increasing their professionalism," he said of the investigators facing opposition allegations of a politically motivated witch-hunt.
The PACE resolution required of Armenia "the urgent release of the persons detained on seemingly artificial and politically motivated charges." Only one prominent oppositionist has been set free since its passage on April 17.
In a legal opinion published on 28 March, the ODIHR and the Venice Commission raised serious concerns about the amendmen’s to the Law on Conducting Meetings, Assemblies, Rallies and Demonstrations.
During a visit to Yerevan on 15-16 April, a delegation from the ODIHR and the Venice Commission met Tigran Torosyan, Speaker of the National Assembly, Gevorg Danielyan, Minister of Justice, and presidential adviser Gevorg Mheryan. It was agreed to repeal or change the amendmen’s introduced to tighten provisions for peaceful assemblies, in particular with regard to spontaneous gatherings. These changes would bring the law closer to its original content, which had been assessed positively by the ODIHR and the Venice Commission.
Based on the agreement reached, new amendmen’s will be drafted and submitted to the ODIHR and the Venice Commission for another review. ODIHR and Venice Commission experts suggested that sufficient time be allowed for public discussion of the amendmen’s.

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