Sarkisian Issues New Round of Pardons for Jailed Oppositionists

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–President Serzh Sarkisian has pardoned nine more individuals arrested and sentenced to up to fours years’ imprisonment in connection with the 2008 post-election strife in Yerevan, his office reported late Monday.

The presidential press service said all of them had appealed to Sarkisian for an amnesty. It said the presidential decree signed earlier on Monday also took into account their lack of prior criminal records as well as health conditions and family circumstances.

This latest round of pardons comes less than a month after a leading member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation reiterated his party’s calls for Sarkisian’s administration to issue a general amnesty for the jailed oppositionists.

Armen Rutamian, the chairman of the ARF’s Supreme Council of Armenia, warned on December 29 that a failure to grant a general amnesty would deal a serious blow to the country’s international standing.

Sarkisian’s latest amnesties reduced to approximately 60 the number of opposition members and supporters arrested in the wake of the disputed presidential election of February 2008. The move came ahead of a crucial visit to Yerevan by John Prescott and Georges Colombier, senior representatives of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) closely monitoring the post-election political developmen’s in Armenia.

Prescott and Colombier were instrumental in the PACE Monitoring Committee’s decision last month to recommend the Strasbourg-based assembly to censure Armenia over the continuing imprisonment of dozens of supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian. Their visit is seen as Yerevan’s last chance to avoid PACE sanctions.

Despite mounting Western and domestic pressure, Sarkisian has refused to call a general amnesty for all Ter-Petrosian loyalists remaining in prison. The Armenian president so far has been willing to pardon only those detainees that have confessed to controversial accusations leveled against them.

Lawmakers from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation serving in Sarkisian’s coalition government have been pressing the president to declare a general amnesty, arguing that the accusations leveled against the jailed oppositionists have “an inherent political subtext.”

Armen Rustamian, a leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, who also heads the Armenian parliament’s committee on foreign relations, expressed serious concern late last month 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 warned that “Armenia’s reputation and image will be called into question for nothing” if President Sarkisian does not issue a general amnesty for all jailed oppositionists. “A general amnesty would have been the best solution,” for defuse lingering political tensions in the country," he said.

The imprisoned oppositionists include Aleksandr Arzumanian, a former foreign minister who managed Ter-Petrosian’s election campaign, and three members of parliament. They as well as three other opposition figures went on a collective trial last month, accused of provoking the March 1 clashes in an attempt to topple the government.

The trial remained deadlocked on Tuesday because of the defendants’ continuing refusal to comply with a legal requirement to show due respect for the judge in the case, Mnatsakan Martirosian, by standing up during his entry into the courtroom. The defendants remained demonstratively seated in protest against what they see as a sham trial.

Martirosian again construed this stance as a “disrespectful attitude toward the court,” adjourning hearings on the case for the fifth consecutive time. The next court session is scheduled for Friday.

Koryun Piloyan, the chief trial prosecutor, backed the judge and accused the oppositionists and their lawyers of deliberately dragging out the proceedings. Piloyan threatened to demand that the trial continue in the defendants’ absence.

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