Monday, 26 January 2009

Letter to the PACE from the wives of Armenia's political prisoners

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

January 25, 2009

Dear Delegates,

We are writing to you on behalf of the wives, mothers, and sisters of Armenia’s political prisoners and detainees in connection with the February 19, 2008 presidential election and its aftermath. On Tuesday, January 27, 2009 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is to consider the implementation by Armenia of Assembly Resolutions 1609 and 1620. We ask that you remember the victims of the continuing political repression in Armenia as you decide what course to take.

We commend the Monitoring Committee for its December 22, 2008 Draft Resolution, which recognizes that our loved ones are indeed political prisoners and that strong actions are necessary to bring the Armenian government into compliance with the requirements of the Council of Europe and its obligations to its own people.

Since the passage of Resolutions 1609 and 1620 and the December Draft Resolution, the authorities have failed to take meaningful steps that correspond to the promises they have made to you and to us. We know that you are well informed by the Armenian National Congress and others of recent developments in Armenia. Without repeating all that you have learned from them, we wish to confirm, from our personal experience, that political repression has only worsened recently. A number of political prisoners have been beaten and moved to more dangerous prison cells, in attempts to intimidate them and break their will. The trail of seven has been repeatedly postponed by the judge, denying detainees the right swift justice. Their relatives have been threatened and intimidated by scores of plainclothes policemen inside the courtroom. Outside the courtroom, peaceful supporters have been repeatedly been harassed and abused by an army of police and red berets. This is what we live through every day.

There have been many calls both here and abroad for a general amnesty for the political prisoners. The government response has been cynical and cruel. The authorities have launched a campaign of intimidation to persuade prisoners and those who have received suspended sentences to formally request pardon from Serzh Sargsyan; in exchange they must confess to crimes they did not commit and renounce further political activity. Several, under extreme duress, have succumbed. The vast majority have resisted and will continue to resist. On the evening of Saturday, January 24, well aware that Armenian newspapers do not publish on Sunday and Monday and so no public response would be possible before Tuesday, Serzh Sargsyan’s office announced the pardon of sixteen men convicted in connection with the March 1 events. None of these men, however, is on our list of political prisoners. They are not oppositionists, but rather hoodlums and petty criminals planted by the authorities among the crowd of peaceful protestors.

While granting these questionable pardons, government representatives have repeatedly suggested that no general amnesty is possible until the trial of seven has run its course. This argument is flawed legally, logically, and morally. There is no law that would prevent the immediate release of all political prisoners and detainees. In terms of logic, there are dozens of prisoners who have already been convicted on various charges solely on police testimony; their release should not be connected in any way to the trials that are ongoing. Morally, it is well known that the trial of seven could go on for years and years. These men have already spent nearly 11 months in jail, completely unjustly. To even suggest that they should remain in captivity at the mercy of the Armenian justice system for who knows how much longer is deeply wrong.

It is well known among the citizens of Armenia, and should be recognized by the PACE as well, that all government actions taken to deal with the situation thus far have been last-minute attempts to deceive, to save face, and to avoid for as long as possible the inevitable consequences of the campaign of political repression that began well before the election of February 2008. Similarly, the promised revision of Articles 225 and 300 of the Criminal Code, while welcome, is an act of desperation and deceit, rather than good will, and offers no real guarantee that justice will be done.

We don’t wish to see our country further estranged from European structures and values, but it is these very values of democracy, freedom, and human rights that our loved ones have been persecuted for espousing. Each additional day that the authorities are given to fulfill their obligations to the Council of Europe and to their own people is an additional day in Soviet-era prison cells for these men, bringing with it risks to their health and well-being, and physical, financial, and psychological hardship for their families.

We remind you that the members of the Armenian delegation to the PACE are part of the system that has allowed and encouraged the unraveling of democracy to take place. While they may be men of good will individually, they are under tremendous pressure to serve the interests of an unjust and illegitimate regime. We ask you to remember our families, and our children in particular, as you make your decision on Tuesday.

Respectfully yours,

The Wives of Armenia’s Political Prisoners Coordinating Group

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