YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–President Serzh Sarkisian moved closer to initiating a general amnesty for dozens of imprisoned opposition members as he discussed the matter with Armenia’s top security officials on Tuesday.
Sarkisian’s office said he instructed the heads of Armenia’s law-enforcement agencies and Justice Minister Gevorg Danielian to submit proposals on “the terms and legal procedures of the amnesty” by June 15. “The presidential administration was instructed to summarize within the mentioned period relevant proposals from political forces, figures and the [presidential] Public Council,” the office said in a statement.
Under the Armenian constitution, a prisoner amnesty can be initiated only by the president of the republic but needs to be approved by the National Assembly. The Armenian parliament is dominated by Sarkisian allies.
Its speaker, Hovik Abrahamian, fuelled late last month talk of the impending release of more than 50 loyalists of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian, who were arrested following last year’s troubled presidential election and remain in jail on highly controversial charges. Sarkisian told journalists on May 28 that he will move to free them if Armenia’s leading political groups prove that there is strong public support for such a measure.
David Harutiunian, chairman of the parliament committee on legal affairs, was also present at Sarkisian’s meeting with the high-ranking law-enforcement officials. “By and large, the position of the president of the republic is that the amnesty should be declared,” he told RFE/RL.
“I think all parties will submit proposals,” he said. “Not only law-enforcement structures but also the public, including the Public Council. After June 15, there will be a discussion on some final variant [of the amnesty bill.]”
Harutiunian added that “in all likelihood” the process will be completed in time for the late June session of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), which has been pressing for the release of the jailed oppositionists. The PACE believes that at least some of them were prosecuted on “seemingly artificial or politically motivated charges” and has threatened to impose sanctions against Yerevan if those individuals are not set free. The Strasbourg-based assembly is expected to again discuss the issue at its upcoming session.
The opposition, for its part, has scoffed at Sarkisian’s amnesty call, saying that the president is preparing to free the “political prisoners” because of mounting Western pressure. Sarkisian has until now been willing to pardon only those opposition supporters who admit their guilt and ask him for clemency.