Why the Armenian authorities need an amnesty
Susanna Petrosyan, Yerevan. Exclusively to Vestnik Kavkaza
The Armenian parliament approved the presidential proposal on amnesty devoted to the 22nd anniversary of Armenia’s Independence Day. The speaker Ovik Abramyan stressed that amnesty is “an act of humanity, which will contribute to the improvement of an atmosphere of tolerance and consolidation in the society.” The amnesty will affect 1200 prisoners, 500 of whom will be released almost immediately.
Development of the draft took little time. On September 30th President Serge Sargsyan presented the proposal for a discussion, and on October 1st the parliamentary commission on state legal affairs adopted it. The next day a discussion took place at a plenary session, and on October 3rd MPs voted for the draft. The haste can be explained by an attempt to create a positive background for Sargsyan’s visit to France – he met Francois Hollande and the chairman of the Senate and spoke at the PACE session.
However, this is only the surface. In five years it is the third amnesty in Armenia. Just like amnesties of 2009 and 2011, the amnesty is aimed at reduction of internal political tension which appeared due to presence of political prisoners.
As the result of previous amnesties under pressure of local social activists and international organizations many representatives of the opposition were released. They were accused of prevention of the presidential elections of 2008, organization of riots on March 1st, 2008. During trials all accusations were disapproved, because in most cases they were based on testimonial evidence of policemen.
The acutest question in the current amnesty is whether it will touch on four activists of the opposition party the Armenian National Congress, who are accused of street crime; four of them are released on their own recognizance, and the fourth, Tigran Arakelyan (he is also accused of obstructing an officer) is serving 6-year sentence in prison. Arakelyan and his lawyers have many times stated that his case is a frame-up and is based on testimonial evidence of policemen.
The ANC presented a statement which is based on the Resolution 1900 of the PACE on criteria of defining political prisoners that the whole situation with Arakelyan enables calling him a political prisoner.
The trial over the ANC activists became well-known due to intensive activity of ANC representatives in the Council of Europe and Armenia. Every week protests demanding the release of Arakelyan take place near the building of the Genral Prosecution. Last month MPs from Prosperous Armenia, Heritage, Dashnaktsutyun, and the ANC stated on their demand to release the political prisoner. The opposition organized collecting signatures in Arakelyan’s support. 110 representatives of intelligent society, including writers, film directors, musicians, journalists, and social activists signed the statement.
Despite numerous reforms in the justice system, the main problem hasn’t been solved. Armenian courts are still a tool in hands of the executive power. According to human rights activists, the justice system continues implementing political orders of the power.
Likely the current amnesty, like two previous ones, will be not only an effective measure to shut down questions on political prisoners, but also an attempt to save the face of the justice system, as few people believe in it.