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Armenian Ombudsman Downplays Opposition Criticism

Armenia's human rights ombudsman, Armen Harutiunian
Armenia's human rights ombudsman, Armen Harutiunian
Armenia's human rights ombudsman today downplayed criticism of his activities by opposition leader and former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Ter-Petrossian, speaking at a rally of his Armenian National Congress (HAK) on November 9, condemned Ombudsman Armen Harutiunian for not describing his jailed supporters as political prisoners and to press for their release.

"Esteemed human rights defender, haven't you understood until now that that is your job, that that is what you get paid for by taxpayers, and that you yourself must prove that?" Ter-Petrossian said. "What have you done up to now?"

Ter-Petrossian branded the ombudsman as "one of the most ardent advocates" of President Serzh Sarkisian. "Assuming that he is the defender of a single person's rights, rather than human rights, then that single person is Serzh Sarkisian," Ter-Petrossian said.

Harutiunian told RFE/RL that he will not respond to the criticism.

"Every person has the right to freely express their opinion," Harutiunian said. But he noted that unlike Ter-Petrossian, he is not a politician and acts "only on the legal plane."

The more than a dozen opposition activists still in jail were among more than 100 Ter-Petrossian supporters arrested following the disputed February 2008 presidential election and the bloody unrest it led to.

International bodies like the Council of Europe have said at least some of them were jailed for political motives and pressed the Sarkisian administration to free them.

In the wake of the unrest in 2008, Harutiunian criticized the Armenian authorities' harsh response to Ter-Petrossian's postelection demonstrations.

But he subsequently endorsed the findings of an Armenian parliamentary inquiry into those clashes -- the worst street violence in the country's history. The inquiry, which was conducted by pro-government lawmakers, concluded last year that the use of lethal force against opposition protesters was largely justified.