Armenian Amnesty ‘Will Ease Political Tension’


YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — A general amnesty initiated by President Serge Sargisian is expected to lead to the release of all opposition prisoners which will further stabilize the political situation in Armenia, parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian said on Monday.

Abrahamian also made clear that the Armenian authorities do not intend to meet other opposition demands, chief among them being the conduct of snap national elections.

“The president’s step was taken at the right time and dedicated to the 20th anniversary of our independence,” he told journalists. “It will ease tension existing in our country.”

“The public must be glad that the president of the country is doing everything to ease tension in the country and start dialogue [with the opposition,]” he said.

Abrahamian referred to an amnesty bill that was drafted by the presidential administration and sent to the National Assembly on Friday. The parliament’s committee on legal affairs swiftly met to discuss it, reportedly proposing some changes in the text.

Sources said that the still unpublicized bill, if approved by lawmakers, will lead to the immediate release of some 400 prisoners. It is expected that they will comprise all six members of the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) who were arrested following a disputed 2008 presidential election and are still in prison.

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Asked to comment on this, Abrahamian said, “We are working. Everything will be clear in two days.” He added that the full National Assembly will likely start debating the amnesty bill on Wednesday.

Among the jailed oppositionists are former parliament deputy Sasun Mikaelian and Nikol Pashinian, editor of the opposition daily Haykakan Zhamanak. HAK leader Levon Ter- Petrosian expressed confidence late last month that both men will be free before the next HAK rally scheduled for May 31.

Abrahamian did not confirm this, saying only that the oppositionists could be set free at any moment before September 21, which will mark the 20th anniversary of Armenia’s independence from the Soviet Union.

The release of the individuals regarded by the opposition as political prisoners is the HAK’s main precondition for starting a dialogue with Sargisian. HAK leaders also say that they would negotiate with the Armenian government only on the holding of fresh presidential and parliamentary elections.

Like other top representatives of Sargisian’s three-party governing coalition, Abrahamian ruled out such polls. “Every fresh election, be it presidential or parliamentary, has a negative impact on a country’s image,” he said.

“Are they ready to contest pre-term elections?” the speaker asked, referring to the HAK. “As for us, we are preparing for regular [parliamentary] elections that will take place in May 2012.”

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