Parliament to Debate Criminal Code Changes

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Armenian parliament will likely debate next week key legal amendmen’s which have been promised to the Council of Europe and which could lead to the release of prominent opposition prisoners, a senior lawmaker said on Monday.

The Armenian authorities undertook to amend articles 225 and 300 of the Criminal Code last month as they managed to avert embarrassing sanctions by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE).

The articles deal with provocation of “mass disorders” and “usurpation of state authority by force” respectively, accusations leveled against the most prominent of opposition members arrested following the February 2008 presidential election.

Shortly after the PACE’s January session, the parliament leadership formed a working group tasked with drafting the relevant amendmen’s. David Harutiunian, who heads both the group and the Armenian delegation at the PACE, told RFE/RL that the draft amendmen’s are essentially ready and will soon be sent to the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission for evaluation. They will also be discussed by the leaders of the four parties represented in Armenia’s government and may well reach the parliament floor next week, he said.

In Harutiunian’s words, one of the proposed amendmen’s would divide Article 300 into three parts detailing various forms of power usurpation. He said the working group also proposes to add a new article to the Criminal Code dealing with attempts to “overthrow constitutional order.” He indicated that it will be possible to apply these changes retroactively to the oppositionists charged under articles 225 and 300.

PACE officials have said that this should result in the early release of those oppositionists. The Armenian opposition is far more skeptical on this score, suggesting that the authorities duped the PACE to again avoid sanctions over their harsh post-election crackdown on the opposition.

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