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Armenia: Opposition Raps PACE Resolution

They’re angry with European organisation over suspected U-turn on punishing the government for rights record.
By Rita Karapetian
The opposition this week criticised a Europe-wide human rights body’s decision not to suspend Armenian delegates’ voting rights, suggesting that it had been fooled by “not entirely reliable information” from the government.

The authorities, meanwhile, welcomed the resolution by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, PACE, saying it had recognised the government’s willingness to reform.

The PACE investigation stems from the suppression of opposition protests in March, which followed presidential elections the month before. Ten people died in the protests, and as yet no one has been charged for their murders.

After initial suggestions that PACE might suspend Armenia’s members from voting, on January 27, it welcomed the establishment of a probe into the March events, and the release of a number of people who had been held since then. It also upheld the voting rights of Armenian delegates.

“I consider that decision to be the result of the recent display of political will and reforms on the part of the authorities headed by the president,” said Eduard Sharmazanov, spokesman for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia.

“This is a victory for the democratic future of Armenia.”

He said a PACE delegation that visited Armenia this month had been told of the country’s determination to reform Articles 225 and 300 in the criminal code, which deal with attempts to overthrow the government, and other proposed changes.

These conversations seemed to have satisfied the delegates, although not entirely since the PACE resolution said they meet again in April to “examine the progress achieved by the Armenian authorities with regard to the implementation of this and the previous resolutions and to propose any further action to be taken”.

February’s presidential polls themselves were described by international observers as having been “mostly in line with the country's international commitments”, but candidates including Levon Ter-Petrossian – the country’s first post-independence president who heads the Armenian National Congress, HAK – said the winner, Serzh Sargsian, had stolen the election.

Two weeks of mass protests by supporters of Ter-Petrossian and other candidates followed, but they were crushed when the government declared a state of emergency and banned independent news coverage.

In two successive resolutions – number 1609 in April and number 1620 in June – PACE demanded that Armenia guarantee citizens’ rights to protest, that it allow an unbiased investigation into the deaths, and that it free activists “seemingly detained on artificial and politically motivated charges”.

But three parliamentary deputies and ex-foreign minister Alexander Arzumanian are among seven people still in detention charged with organising the mass protests.

The opposition said 58 political prisoners remain in detention, and that 18 of the 20 people freed before PACE’s monitoring commission met were ordinary criminals with no connection to politics.

“HAK regrets that voting in the [PACE] monitoring group took place on the basis of not entirely reliable information,” said a statement from Ter-Petrossian’s organisation to PACE.

HAK also said the government’s promises to liberalise the criminal code could not be relied upon.

"If the past is any indication, the Armenian authorities have almost certainly made this proposal in order to win time and find some way of circumventing the problem,” it said.

In particular, opposition leaders were annoyed that a reference to the opposition leaders in detention as “political prisoners” had been removed from the PACE resolution, although the body still speculated that the charges brought under Articles 225 and 300 “could have been politically motivated”.

Rita Karapetian is a journalist from the Noyan Tapan news agency.

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