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Rights Watchdog Says Armenia On Verge Of 'Not Free'

A Freedom House expert says the Armenian government's lack of respect for political and civil rights has it extremely close to being declared "not free," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Christopher Walker, Freedom House's director of studies, told RFE/RL that Armenia's rating by his organization for 2009 is "right on the border between 'partly free' and 'not free.'"

In its latest survey of freedom in countries around the world, Freedom House on January 12 gave Armenia a "partly free" status.

Walker said that regarding fundamental issues for being democratic, "we really haven't seen any meaningful steps forward" from Armenia. He said one of the key reasons for that is a "very deep relationship between politics and economics" in the country.

Walker also pointed to the lingering fallout from the February 2008 presidential election and the deadly unrest in Yerevan that followed it.

As it does annually, the Washington-based Freedom House rated countries on a seven-point scale for political rights and civil liberties, with "1" meaning "most free" and "7" being "least free."

Armenia received "6" and "4" in the "political rights" and "civil liberties" categories, respectively, as it did last year.

The Freedom House report has provoked differing reactions in Armenia.

"Freedom House is taking a bit of an extreme approach toward us," Razmik Zohrabian, a deputy chairman of the ruling Republican Party, told RFE/RL on January 13.

But Aram Manukian, a senior member of the opposition Armenian National Congress, said the watchdog should have been even more critical of Armenia's rights record.