Armenian Speaker Rules Out Opposition Amnesty

YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–Parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian has indicated that the Armenian authorities are unlikely to release dozens of jailed opposition members and supporters in order to avert sanctions by the Council of Europe.

The Strasbourg-based organization’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) will decide in late January whether to suspend the voting rights of its Armenian members because of the continuing imprisonment of some 70 oppositionists arrested following last February’s presidential election. In its two resolutions on Armenia adopted in April and June, he PACE demanded the immediate release of all individuals jailed on “seemingly artificial or politically motivated charges.”

The PACE’s Monitoring Committee said earlier this month that Yerevan has failed to comply with those resolutions and should therefore be sanctioned by the 47-nation assembly. President Serzh Sarkisian and his governing coalition hope to avoid that as a result of their upcoming negotiations with the committee’s two Armenia rapporteurs.

“We must do everything to make sure Armenia is not stripped of its voting rights,” Abrahamian told RFE/RL on Monday. “We attach great importance to our relations with the Council of Europe and other European structures.”

Abrahamian indicated that Sarkisian will not declare a general amnesty for the arrested oppositionists, an idea backed by PACE officials. He said the president may do so only after the end of the ongoing trial of seven prominent opposition figures accused of provoking the March 1 deadly clashes in Yerevan. The trial got off to a turbulent start on December 17 and is expected to take months.

Abrahamian, who is affiliated with Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia, accused opposition forces led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian of obstructing court hearings on the high-profile case. “Let the court decide,” he said. “If [the prosecutors] are wrong, it will set those people free, he said. “The judicial process will clarify many things and many things may change as a result,” he added without elaboration.

Some senior Republicans have predicted that the PACE will stop short of imposing sanctions on Armenia at the last minute. But the Republican Party’s coalition partners, notably the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, are less optimistic on that score.

Armen Rustamian, the chairman of ARF’s Supreme Council of Armenia last Thursday expressed serious concern about the Council of Europe’s threats to impose sanctions on Armenia, saying that they would deal a serious blow to the country’s international standing.

Rustamian, who also heads the Armenian parliament’s committee on foreign relations, said President Sarkisian should have pardoned the jailed oppositionists months ago. He argued that “a general amnesty would have been the best solution,” adding that the accusations leveled against the prisoners have “an inherent political subtext.”

The Armenian authorities have been under pressure to release most of those detainees with ARF lawmakers consistently urging President Serzh Sarkisian’s administration to declare a general amnesty to prevent a possible crisis from ensuing.

Another ARF lawmaker, Artsvik Minasian, who sits on a parliamentary commission investigating the post-election unrest in Yerevan, similarly called for a general amnesty earlier this month, saying that it would help defuse lingering political tensions in the country.

Rustamian had warned in July that the Armenian government’s failure to issue a general amnesty would lead to a possible political and social crisis in Armenia.

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