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Armenian Speaker Chides Europe Over 'Political Prisoners'

YEREVAN (RFE/RL) -- The speaker of Armenia's parliament, Hovik Abrahamian, has suggested European multilateral organizations are applying a "double standard" toward Armenia and some other member states over purported political prisoners.

Abrahamian also argued that his country's authorities have been consistent in complying with the demands set by two successive resolutions on Armenia adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in the wake of violence in Yerevan following the February presidential vote and a government crackdown on political opponents protesting the outcome.

In an interview this week with RFE/RL's Armenian Service, Abrahamian said that, despite PACE's urgings, it would be wrong to declare a general amnesty for more than 100 opposition members and supporters who were arrested and jailed in connection with the deadly March 1 clashes until after their trials are concluded.

"The president [Serzh Sarkisian] has said on many occasions that while a general amnesty is not excluded, it can only happen after the completion of court trials," Abrahamian said. "As for pardons, you know that the president has already responded to three appeals to grant pardons to three citizens."

One of the demands of PACE's April and June resolutions was to release opposition members detained on "seemingly artificial or politically motivated charges."

On December 17, the PACE Monitoring Committee for the first time described the jailed Armenian oppositionists as "political prisoners" and urged the Strasbourg-based body to impose sanctions on Armenia by stripping its eight-member delegation of the voting rights.

Abrahamian denies the presence of political prisoners in Armenia until the completion of trials of leading opposition members. The trial of seven opposition figures charged with plotting a coup began in Yerevan earlier this month amid renewed opposition claims that the defendants in the trial, including Armenia's former foreign minister and three members of parliament, are victims of political persecution.

"No one has the right to use the term 'political prisoner.' I think there are no political prisoners in Armenia. And the president of the republic on numerous occasions has said that no one will be condemned for their political views," Abrahamian said. "In general, I don't want the Council of Europe to apply double standards in relation to different countries, since by moving to deprive Armenia of its voting right, which is very unacceptable for us, they will thus show a discriminative approach. If so, Azerbaijan should have been deprived of its voting rights still in 2001, since the presence of political prisoners there was already proved then."

"There has been only talk of it in Armenia and the presence of political prisoners in Armenia hasn't been grounded yet," Abrahamian said. "I am convinced that it will be correct if the Council of Europe allows time and opportunity for trials to be completed and at that time, after steps taken by the republic's president, we will draw conclusions."

At the same time, Abrahamian said Armenia "highly values its relations with the Council of Europe and generally with European structures."

"Of course, we must do everything to prevent the sanctions from becoming a reality," he said. "During the vote [on the PACE Monitoring Committee's recommendation], people will hear the reasons, and I am sure the right decision will be made."

Abrahamian went on to suggest it was "in the interest of the opposition to have protracted trials" and urge radical opponents not to obstruct any ongoing legal processes.

"I am convinced that our country's president in general is against having political prisoners and will not allow any citizen to be convicted for his political views," Abrahamian added.

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