Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights
March 26, 2009
Dear Mr. Hammarberg,
We are writing to you on behalf of the families of the seven opposition leaders currently standing trial in Armenia’s “Case of Seven” Although we are confident that as always, your office is following the trial and other human rights matters in Armenia, we have several concerns regarding recent developments that we would like to share with you.
On March 18, 2009, the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia adopted amendments to Articles 225 and 300 of the Armenian Criminal Code that had been proposed in order to address the legal shortcomings in these articles that you, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), and others had pointed out. This initiative, along with the written assurances given by Speaker of the National Assembly Hovik Abrahamyan, has been regarded by the PACE as a signal of the willingness of the Armenian authorities to address the matter of the seven opposition leaders charged with violating Articles 300 and 225.3 and to pave the way for their release, in line with the requirements of PACE Resolution 1643.
We are concerned, however, by recent comments by David Harutyunyan, the chairman of the working group established within the National Assembly to amend the articles in question, which cast doubt upon whether the recent changes will actually lead to the release of the political prisoners. According to Mr. Harutyunyan, the National Assembly has done its part, and now it is up to the Prosecutor General and the judge presiding over the trial to take action as they see fit. This action, in his assessment, might vary and could be manifested in acquittal, dropping the charges, requalifying the charges to bring them in line with the new contents of the amended articles, or even bringing lesser charges. Mr. Harutyunyan added that “the law is a very subjective matter,” and the prosecutor’s or judge’s decisions might also be subjective in nature, whether we like it or not. This equivocal interpretation of the meaning and significance of the changes in the law causes us to worry that rather than dropping the charges against our husbands, the authorities may be planning to bring lesser charges against them, carrying sentences, say, of three years, rather than fifteen, and then attempt to portray this to the international community as a manifestation of good will toward the defendants.
Whether or not the authorities will succeed in implementing this deceitful and unjust course of action depends upon the degree to which it is tolerated by the international community, and the PACE Monitoring Committee in particular. It was with this in mind, perhaps, that in court on March 23, 2009, Judge Mnatsakan Martirosyan adjourned the trial for nine days at the prosecutors’ request, accepting their explanation that the amendments had not entered into force (although they had been signed by the president on March 21, they were not officially promulgated until March 24) and that they, the prosecutors, needed this time to make up their minds as to how to proceed with the case. It may have been that the specific date of the next court session—April 1, 2009—was chosen purposely, in order to wait and see what the reaction by the Monitoring Committee (which is due to meet March 30-31) would be in relation to the various courses of action being considered by the Armenian authorities at the moment.
It is because the upcoming meeting of the Monitoring Committee may well decide the fate of our husbands that we ask you personally to intercede on their behalf. Our husbands and their lawyers have presented the judge with motions substantiating in great detail the unequivocal necessity of dropping the charges against them in accordance with national law as well as the European Convention of Human Rights and other legal acts ratified by the Republic of Armenia (we have asked our lawyers to send copies of the motions to your office), but we have little hope that any judge in Armenia today is willing or able to be guided in his decisions by the letter of the law or the principle of justice. What matters is the political will of the government to resolve the situation, and this will depend in its turn upon the Monitoring Committee’s insistence that the Armenian Government abide by its international commitments and meet the demands set forth in PACE Resolutions 1643, 1620, and 1609, and its refusal to tolerate obfuscation or half-measures.
The only acceptable outcome is the dropping of all charges against our husbands; the option of lesser sentences, even with vague promises of eventual amnesty, is neither just nor humane. Every day these men spend in jail brings with it additional risks to their health and additional hardship for their families. Recently, one of the defendants, Shant Harutyunyan, suffered a nervous breakdown—he is currently being held in a psychiatric ward, denied all contact with his family. We can only wonder who will be the next to fall ill.
Although it pains us to have to write to you once again of such troubles, we cannot over-emphasize how important your intercession is. Please do what you can to make sure that the Monitoring Committee does not allow itself to be deceived, and that our husbands and the other political prisoners are freed at last.
Wife of Alexander Arzoumanian
Wife of Grigor Voskerchyan
cc: John Prescott