YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–President Serzh Sarkisian said on Thursday that he will declare an amnesty for dozens of imprisoned opposition members only if Armenia’s leading political groups prove that there is strong public support for such a move.
The remarks came amid renewed speculation about the impending release of some 55 loyalists o Levon Ter-Petrosian who were arrested following last year’s troubled presidential election and remain in jail. Parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian told RFE/RL on May 21 that Sarkisian will make a relevant statement on May 28, a public holiday. However, Abrahamian effectively retracted his claim the next day, saying through a spokesman that he simply “did not rule out the possibility of a general amnesty.”
Calls for a general amnesty for the jailed oppositionists came last July, when lawmakers from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation warned the Sarkisian administration that a failure to grant a swift amnesty would deal a devastating blow to Armenians international image and hurt chances for defusing the lingering political tensions in the country.
The ARF, which left Sarkisian’s coalition government in April over the his concilatory policy toward Turkey, had repeatedly urged Sarkisian to issue the general amnesty to prevent a possible political and social crisis from erupting in Armenia.
Under the Armenian constitution, an amnesty can be initiated only by the president of the republic and needs to be approved by the National Assembly. The latter is dominated by Sarkisian’s allies.
“An amnesty was last declared in our republic in 2006,” Sarkisian told journalists while attending official celebrations of Armenia’s Republic Day at the Sardarapat war memorial 40 kilometers west of Yerevan. “If the idea, the necessity of calling a new amnesty has matured in the society in the last three years, then I am really ready to make use of my constitutional right.”
“I therefore call on all political forces, public figures, the [presidential] Public Council to submit their proposals on the necessity and conditions of the amnesty to the presidential administration. And if it emerges as a result that there is such a desire in the society, then I will immediately make use of my constitutional right and appeal to the National Assembly to pass a law,” he said.
The HAK regards the jailed oppositionists as political prisoners, while the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) believes that at least some of them were prosecuted on “seemingly artificial or politically motivated charges.” The PACE has repeatedly threatened to impose sanctions against Yerevan if those individuals are not set free. The Strasbourg-based body is expected to again discuss the issue at its next session in late June.
President Sarkisian has until now been willing to pardon only those individual opposition supporters who admit their guilt and ask him for clemency.