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Samvel Nikoyan: "All those problems are gradually and slowly finding solutions."
Armenia's governing Republican and Prosperous Armenia parties have criticized the New York-based group Freedom House for branding Armenia a "semi-consolidated authoritarian" country, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Freedom House came to this conclusion in its latest survey of developments in 29 countries of the former communist bloc that was released on June 29. They were rated on seven relevant indicators, including conduct of elections, democratic governance, press freedom, and corruption.

The "Nations in Transit" report found no changes in those areas in Armenia last year, assigning the country the same "democracy score" of 5.39 measured on a 7-point scale, with seven being the worst. Eight other ex-Soviet states, including Azerbaijan, were judged to be "consolidated authoritarian regimes."

Samvel Nikoyan, a deputy parliament speaker and senior member of President Serzh Sarkisian's Republican Party (HHK), rejected the "authoritarian" label slapped on Armenia, while acknowledging "problems" with democracy and human rights.

"But all those problems are gradually and slowly finding solutions," he told RFE/RL.

Naira Zohrabian, a senior parliamentarian from Prosperous Armenia, the HHK's junior coalition partner, likewise called the Freedom House criticism "exaggerated." She insisted that the authorities in Yerevan are committed to democratization and other political reforms.

The Freedom House report was also dismissed by the HAK and another major opposition force, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun).

"The Congress didn't find the report important," Levon Zurabian, the HAK's central office coordinator, said when contacted by RFE/RL.

Vahan Hovannisian, a Dashnaktsutyun leader, was even more dismissive, challenging Freedom House's integrity and good faith.

"Freedom House's goals and intentions regarding Armenia are totally different from my and my party's goals," he said at a news conference.

The only positive reaction to the report came from the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party.

"Their evaluations are absolutely acceptable and justified," its chairman, Armen Martirosian, told RFE/RL.
Khairullo Khamidov
The mother of jailed Uzbek sports journalist Khairulla Khamidov says he will not appeal his conviction to a higher court, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reports.

Khamidov's mother, Muqaddas Khamidova, told RFE/RL that her son told her of his decision during a visit at a Tashkent prison earlier this month. She said he told her there was no hope for an appeal to be successful and that he had therefore decided against it.

Khamidov's mother added that her son is in satisfactory condition and that all family members can meet with him individually. She said that he is due to be transferred to another jail soon.

Meanwhile, Surat Ikromov, a leader of the Independent Group for Human Rights Defenders, told RFE/RL that appeals by people found guilty under Article 244 of the Criminal Code -- establishment and participation in religious extremist groups -- are rarely ever successful. But he added that he thinks Khamidov should still file an appeal.

A court in the town of Gulbakhor, outside of Tashkent, sentenced Khamidov in May to six years in prison after finding him and 18 others guilty of being members of the banned extremist Islamic group Jihadchilar (Jihadists).

Khamidov, 34, is well-known in Uzbekistan for a popular Islamic radio program he hosted, his work as a soccer commentator, and his poetry. His arrest in January sparked a strong wave of protests in Uzbekistan.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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