Prominent oppositionists released on amnesty

Opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian and a group of his supporters released from jail pose for a photograph on 22 June, 2009 | Photolur photo, via RFE/RL

Opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian and a group of his supporters released from jail pose for a photograph on 22 June, 2009 | Photolur photo, via RFE/RL

Two members of parliament,  a former foreign minister, a former deputy to Prosecutor-General among 19 or so other oppositionists, walked out of courts and were released from prison in a matter of 2 days as an amnesty put forward by President Sarkisian and approved by the National Assembly last Friday came into action. The amnesty, which was advertised as a way to ease tensions in the society, has already drawn criticism from the opposition who call for the unconditional release of all 50-plus jailed supporters and are planning to hold a rally next Thursday to mark the return of opposition’s “best and strongest guys,” as Levon Zurabian, a spokesperson of the main opposition force – Armenian National Movement.  In an interview with RFE/RL, Zurabian also stated, that “the movement will only get stronger as a result [of the amnesty]”.

Regardless of what the authorities claim, the amnesty is widely seen as a move to ease international criticism ahead of a Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE)  session where a report on “The functioning of democratic institutions in Armenia” will be heard.

PACE has alrealdy adopted 3 highly critical resolutions on Armenia (1609, 1620 and 1643).  The latest resolution, 1643, specifically expresses doubts, that “the charges against a significant number of persons, especially those charged under Articles 225, paragraph 3, and 300 of the Criminal Code and those based solely on police evidence, could have been politically motivated”. The resolution also calls “to release those who were deprived of their liberty in relation to the events of 1 and 2 March 2008 and did not personally commit acts of violence or intentionally order, abet or assist the committing of such acts”.

Meanwhile, at least one person convicted of election fraud on May 31 municipal elections in Yerevan, head of 8/15 electoral committee was also relased under the same general amnesty, which will apply to most detainees in the Armenian prisons, significantly reducing their sentence terms and setting free close to 2000 legitimate criminals. Many of those people are charged with heavy crimes and they will be released at a time, when economic outlook is worsening day by day, there are no jobs to speak of, especially for former convicts, and the main thing left for them is to re-engage in some sort of criminal activity.

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