YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–A deputy speaker of Armenia’s parliament strongly criticized on Tuesday senior officials from the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) for questioning a seven-year prison sentence given to opposition leader Nikol Pashinian.
A Yerevan court convicted Pashinian last month of organizing the March 2008 deadly clashes in the capital between opposition protesters and security forces. It was one of the harshest rulings handed in the trials of several dozen opposition members that were arrested following the unrest. The ruling, condemned by the Armenian opposition and human rights groups, disqualified the outspoken oppositionist from a general amnesty declared by the authorities last June under pressure from the Council of Europe.
John Prescott and Georges Colombier, the two PACE rapporteurs monitoring the political situation in Armenia, said last week that they intend to raise “the issue of the sentencing” of Pashinian and other jailed oppositionists when they visit Yerevan this spring. “A number of issues following the events of 1 and 2 March still need to be clarified and addressed,” they said in a statement.
Samvel Nikoyan, the deputy parliament speaker, said that intention amounts to an illegal interference in the Armenian judiciary’s affairs. “I can’t understand it when some parliamentarians in or outside Armenia official voices their doubts or disagreements regarding a court ruling or call it wrong or say it must be changed,” he told RFE/RL.
“Do they have such privileges in their countries? Can they express such a thought in their country?” “We can not make court decisions a subject of discussion or disagreement,” added Nikoyan.
The PACE has repeatedly demanded the immediate release of supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian arrested on what it considers “seemingly artificial or politically motivated charges.” The June amnesty is believed to have been the result of PACE threats to impose sanctions against Armenia.
Nikoyan, who headed an ad hoc parliament commission investigating the March 2008 unrest, was also dismissive of Prescott’s and Colombier’s latest recommendations to the Armenian authorities. “We receive with a lot of gratitude any assistance, nice words and good will from abroad, but only we can best solve our problems,” he said.
In their last statement, the PACE rapporteurs called for a swift implementation of recommendations made by Nikoyan’s commission. Those include a reform of the Armenian police and the electoral code. The rapporteurs said they will ask the Armenian parliament leadership to come up with a “clear timetable for these reforms” before the next meeting of the PACE’s Monitoring Committee slated for March 17.