YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Armenian parliament on Tuesday approved a government proposal to declare a general amnesty affecting some 2100 convicts and criminal suspects that make up one third of the country’s prison population. The amnesty initiated by President Robert Kocharian is dedicated to the ongoing celebrations of the 1700th anniversary of Armenia’s adoption of Christianity–officials said.
A bill unanimously passed by the National Assembly after two days of debate behind closed doors–allows the authorities to release nearly 1250 persons who are serving prison sentences of up to five years or are being kept in detention pending trial. Some 870 convicts will have their jail terms curtailed.
Individuals convicted of murder and other serious offenses will not be entitled to pardon. Those who are currently on the run from prosecution–including former interior minister Vano Siradeghian–will also be unaffected by the sixth amnesty in post-Soviet Armenia’s history.
The deputies backed the bill despite Kocharian’s rejection of amendmen’s proposed by some parliament factions. One of them–the Armenian Revolutionary Federation–called for clemency for nearly 30 persons sentenced to death at various times over the past decade. Armenia has carried out no executions since 1990 and last year undertook to abolish the death penalty under its Council of Europe obligations.
ARF leader Vahan Hovannisian argued that those on death row should continue to be kept in "inhumane conditions" unless their death sentence is replaced by 15 years’ imprisonment–the maximum jail term in Armenia. The proposal was rejected by Kocharian and Justice Minister David Harutiunian.
It is not clear yet whether Ashot Bleyan–the former minister of education sentenced to five years in prison on corruption charges–will be covered by the amnesty. The controversial verdict–passed by a high court in Yerevan on May 18–has been appealed by Bleyan’s lawyers at the Court of Appeals. The ex-minister–who has been in opposition to the Kocharian administration–insists on his innocence and deman’s a complete acquittal.