Sarkisian Asks Parliament For Amnesty as PACE Delegates Visit Armenia

 

Armenia -- President Serzh Sarkisian (R) meets with visiting officials from the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, Yerevan, 16Jun2009

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian (R) meets with visiting officials from the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, Yerevan, 16 Jun2009.

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–President Serzh Sarkisian formally asked Armenia’s parliament on Tuesday to declare a general amnesty that would affect at least some of the opposition members arrested following last year’s troubled presidential election. The President’s request came as officials from the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly’s Monitoring Committee were on an official visit to Yerevan.

The move led parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian to schedule an emergency session of the National Assembly for Friday. “On the agenda will be a proposal by the president of Armenia on declaring an amnesty,” the parliamentary press service said in a short statement.

The president’s and speaker’s offices did not disclose any details of an amnesty bill that will be debated and almost certainly passed by the assembly. Samvel Farmanian, a spokesman for Sarkisian, said only that it “defines all terms of the amnesty in detail” and contains a “reference” to jailed oppositionists.

Sarkisian said late last month that he will initiate their release if Armenia’s leading political groups prove that there is strong public support for such a measure. A few days later he told the country’s top security officials to submit proposals on “the terms and legal procedures of the amnesty” by June 15.

It remains unclear whether the planned pardon will lead to the release of all of the 55 or so supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian remaining in jail more than 15 months after the February 2008 presidential ballot and the ensuing deadly unrest in Yerevan. Reports in Armenian newspapers critical of the government have said that Sarkisian is reluctant to free the most prominent of the detainees.

Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian gave more weight to those reports as he met with two visiting officials from the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) on Tuesday. Hovsepian was quoted by his press service as telling John Prescott and Georges Colombier that the amnesty will apply to “many individuals” arrested in connection with the March 1, 2008 clashes between security forces and opposition protesters demanding a re-run of the disputed vote.

Prescott and Colombier represent the PACE’s Monitoring Committee that drafted the Strasbourg-based assembly’s three resolutions on Armenia adopted over the past year. The resolutions demanded, among other things, the immediate release of all Ter-Petrosian supporters arrested on “seemingly artificial or politically motivated charges.”

The PACE will again discuss Yerevan’s compliance with the resolutions at its summer session that starts next week. Prescott’s and Colombier’s recommendations will likely determine the course of action to be taken by it.

The two rapporteurs met with Sarkisian later on Tuesday. A statement by the presidential press service said they welcomed the proposed amnesty and noted further progress in the Sarkisian administration’s efforts to address Council of Europe concerns.

Prescott and Colombier also discussed the matter with Ter-Petrosian, who urged the rapporteurs and the Council of Europe to ensure that Armenia fulfills the requirements of the Council of Europe.

The fate of the jailed oppositionists also dominated the rapporteurs’ separate talks with members of the Armenian parliamentary delegation at the PACE. “Both Colombier and Prescott are mainly concerned with whether or not there will be an amnesty, what the terms of that amnesty will be, and whether the amnesty will impact on the case of the six [opposition figures currently facing trials,]” said Zaruhi Postanjian, the only opposition member of the delegation.

Those oppositionists include three parliament deputies and former Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzumanian, who managed Ter-Petrosian’s presidential election campaign. They are accused of separately organizing the March 2008 clashes that left eight civilians and two police servicemen dead. The defendants vehemently deny the charges.

Their high-profile trials have been marred by allegations of police torture made by many of the witnesses who testified during court hearings. Prosecutor-General Hovsepian assured Prescott and Colombier that law-enforcement authorities are investigating the torture claims.

Meanwhile, the parents of four civilians killed in the unrest gathered outside the Council of Europe office in Yerevan on Tuesday to request a meeting with the visiting PACE officials. They told RFE/RL that they want to brief Prescott and Colombier on a lack of progress in the official investigation into the precise circumstances of the deaths of their sons.

“We now expect the Council of Europe to pay attention to us and help to solve these cases,” said Sarkis Kloyan, whose 28-year-old son Gor was killed by a tear gas capsule fired by riot police. “If the Council of Europe does nothing about that, then our lives will be completely ruined.”

“We don’t know where to go and to whom complain. Our authorities have forgotten us,” said Kloyan.

None of the security personnel that used lethal force against opposition protesters has been prosecuted so far. Nor has any of the jailed oppositionists been held directly responsible for the ten deaths.

 

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