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Armenia: Rights Problems Persist Despite President's Initiatives

Washington, 26 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. State Department says that while Armenia's constitution provides for broad human rights protections, problems still persist in several important areas.

The assessment comes in the U.S. State Department's 1998 annual report on human rights, released today.

The report says substantial intervention by local power structures in the March presidential election continued to restrict citizens' ability to change their government peacefully. Members of the security police routinely beat detainees during arrest and interrogation, made arbitrary arrests and detention without warrants, and did not respect constitutional protections regarding privacy and due process, the report adds. Prison conditions remain poor.

The State Department says Armenia's judiciary is subject to political pressure and does not enforce constitutional protections effectively. There are still limits on press freedom, and many journalists practice self-censorship, adds the report.

The report also says Armenian law places some restrictions on religious freedom and on freedom of movement. Discrimination against women, minorities, and the disabled remains a problem, it says.

On a positive note, the report says after his election President Robert Kocharian appointed an opposition presidential candidate to head two presidential commissions charged with improving human rights and reforming the constitution to create a more even balance of power among the executive, judicial and legislative branches. It also noted that one of Kocharian's first actions was to pressure the judiciary to secure the release of many persons convicted in politically-linked trials.