YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Council of Europe is unlawfully meddling in Armenia’s domestic affairs and impinging on its sovereignty by pressing for the release of dozens of imprisoned oppositionists, a senior lawmaker from the ruling Republican Party charged on Wednesday.
Most of those detainees, meanwhile, launched a blistering attack on two key members of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) who have called for political sanctions against the Armenian authorities.
John Prescott of Britain and Georges Colombier of France, who are the PACE Monitoring Committee’s rapporteurs on Armenia, are due to arrive in Yerevan Thursday on a crucial fact-finding visit. They will decide after talks with Armenian leaders whether to stand by the committee’s decision last month to urge the PACE to suspend the voting rights of its Armenian members.
The panel said the administration of President Serzh Sarkisian has failed to fully comply with PACE resolutions demanding the immediate release of opposition members arrested following the February 2008 presidential election. It for the first time described them as political prisoners.
“Nowhere is it written that the Council of Europe can interfere in concrete judicial cases in Armenia and demand that particular individuals be released or arrested,” said Rafik Petrosian, the Republican deputy chairman of an Armenian parliament committee on human rights. He claimed that the Strasbourg-based organizations has overstepped its authority to demand actions that would stop Armenia from being a “sovereign state.”
Petrosian echoed government assurances that the administration of President Serzh Sarkisian has essentially complied with the PACE resolutions. Sarkisian and his political allies maintain that none of the opposition detainees were prosecuted for exercising their political rights.
“I don’t rule out that in the future, if things continue like this, Armenia, seeing that its sovereignty is trampled underfoot, will leave the Council of Europe,” Petrosian told journalists. “But I think that will not happen because people from the Council of Europe will again visit here, see progress and will not take such actions against the Republic of Armenia.”
Other senior members of the Republican party have likewise predicted that the PACE will refrain from sanctioning Yerevan at its upcoming session in Strasbourg. But parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian, who is also affiliated with the ruling party, seems less sanguine, having urged his counterparts from other Council of Europe member states to help prevent the sanctions.
Prescott, who previously served as Britain’s deputy prime minister, and Colombier have also come under fire from the main opposition Armenian National Congress led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, which believes that they have been too lenient toward the Sarkisian administration.
In an open letter to Prescott and Colombier circulated on Wednesday, 43 of some 60 Ter-Petrosian loyalists remaining in jail went further, alleging that the PACE rapporteurs’ Yerevan visit is aimed at saving the ruling regime from sanctions. “So far as we can see you can have no other purpose than to rescue the thieving rulers from the punishment that awaits them, and the extension of our imprisonment,” they said.
The jailed oppositionists also claimed that by urging the PACE not to penalize Yerevan in June the rapporteurs gave the authorities the license to keep them behind bars for at least seven more months.