I received a statement signed by 42 political prisoners strongly condemning Armenian human rights Ombudsman Armen Harutyunyan and demanding his resignation.
This statement follows pre-New Year holiday reports that some of the detainees were beaten and ill-treated in prison. Unsurprisingly, Justice minister denied the allegations. However, RFE/RL reported that Ombudsman Harutyunyan has expressed “serious concern” at allegations, having his aides visit the detainees. “A statement by the ombudsman’s office said Voskerchian insisted that he was punched and kicked by the commander of a Justice Ministry squad inspecting Nubarashen because of his political affiliation and activities. The oppositionists claimed that the incident occurred during searches conducted in his and other inmates’ prison cells, the statement said.”
I assume this strongly worded statement by political prisoners was influenced by reports of Ombudsman’s meeting with president Serj Sargsyan after which the latter instructed Justice minister to launch an “internal investigation”.
Political prisoners state that instead of demanding an immediate criminal investigation, Armenian Ombudsman backed an “internal investigation” which detainees believe is a way of cover-up. Statement by political prisoners also accuses Armenian Ombudsman in leniency re human rights violations in Armenia and him being involved in a “monitoring mission” of court hearings instead of clearly condemning them as politically motivated. Thus, the signatories argue that Ombudsman Harutyunyan is serving the authorities’ interests trying to avert Council of Europe sanctions.
Statement concludes by calling for human rights Ombudsman to resign, expressing “hope” that his follower would be different and true to the calling of human rights defender.
In the meantime, opposition Armenian National Congress issued a statement today strongly condemning reported beatings of imprisoned opposition activists and demanding criminal investigation. While criticising the Ombudsman, they stopped short of calling for his resignation.
In a separate statement, Armenian National Congress reminds that the “case of seven” court hearings of high profile oppositionists on coup charges will resume on 9 January, 12pm, at the Yerevan Shengavit district court building. They ask supporters to gather outside the court building to prevent possible provocations and turn the current trial into the “trial against authorities”.
I do agree that political prisoners have grounds for complaining of actions or inactions of Armenian Ombudsman. Armenian Ombudsman should have been more vocal in fighting human rights abuses in Armenia. However, let’s not forget that during emergency situation in March it was the only state institution which was able to deal with the human rights issues. Also, in following months, there were many occasions that the Ombudsman’s office helped in resolving human rights violations. Reports by Armenian Ombudsman on 1 March and following events were critical in making the case heard worldwide. By demanding his resignation now, political prisoners will not get desired justice. New Ombudsman will be appointed by the same authorities whose legitimacy is questioned by the opposition and detainees themselves. There is no way that they would trust this new Ombudsman more than the current one. Quite the contrary.