Armenia approves amnesty for opposition activists

Agence France Presse, France
June 19 2009

Armenia approves amnesty for opposition activists

YEREVAN, June 19 2009

Armenia’s parliament on Friday approved a general amnesty for dozens
of opposition supporters involved in post-election unrest last year
that left 10 dead.

The ex-Soviet republic’s National Assembly voted 98-1 to approve the
amnesty proposed by President Serzh Sarkisian, which officials said
would affect 90 percent of the about 100 people arrested following the
unrest or still wanted by police.

More than 50 people have been convicted and jailed in connection with
the unrest.

"This amnesty will resolve many important questions, will further
reduce tension in the country and create the conditions for
cooperation," the chair of parliament’s legal affairs commission,
David Harutunian, told lawmakers.

Sarkisian’s government has been under international pressure to
release jailed opposition supporters, including from rights watchdog
the Council of Europe, which has repeatedly raised concerns about what
it calls "artificial or politically motivated charges" against
opposition activists.

Officials said that those sentenced to fewer than five years in prison
would be released, while those facing longer sentences would see jail
terms reduced.

Overall, nearly 2,000 people would be affected by the general amnesty,
officials said, including about 500 who will be released from jail.

It was unclear how the amnesty would affect seven top opposition
activists, including several ex-lawmakers and former foreign minister
Alexander Arzumanian, who remain on trial for organising the protests.

The charges stem from street battles that broke out when riot police
moved in to disperse thousands of supporters of former Armenian
president Levon Ter-Petrosian rallying to denounce Sarkisian’s victory
in a February 2008 election.

Two police officers and eight civilians were killed in the clashes and
dozens more were injured, many from gunshot wounds. Ter-Petrosian had
finished second in the vote and his supporters denounced the result as

Armenia — a mountainous country of about three million people wedged
between Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran and Turkey — has seen repeated
political violence and post-election protests since gaining
independence with the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991.