It’s good to see that the Government of Armenia is taking seriously the mandates of the Council of Europe to clean up its muddied and bloodied record on protection of human rights.
As a condition of membership in the Council, leaders of the country were told by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) that the practice of jailing political dissidents would have to stop.
And so it has.
The case of Lavrenti Kirakosyan is a sparkling example of how the boys on Baghramian Avenue have turned a page, to comply with Council demands.
Problem is, they turned the page backward.
It would appear that what has happened with Kirakosyan is no different than what was happening in Armenia 30 years ago, when Communist leaders fabricated charges to justifying jailing (or worse) those who spoke ill of The Party.
A few details for clarification . . .
Lavrenti Kirakosyan is a leader of the National Democratic Party, one that opposes the administration of President Robert Kocharyan.
During an anti-government demonstration outside the Opera House in April, Kirakosyan was arrested and charged with disobeying a police officer. He received a sentence of 10 days in jail.
Two hours before he was to be released, police were sent to search his home, on a claim that he illegally possessed firearms (belonging to alleged associates). A search turned up no such weapons. So police searched again. This time, police found 59 grams of marijuana, for which Kirakosyan has been sentenced to 18 months in jail.
Kirakosyan is known in his village as a community leader who doesn’t even smoke cigarettes, much less anything stronger.
It is true that this is not his first arrest (though the first on drug charges). During other times of political tension in 1996, he was jailed on charges that appeared as transparently invented as the ones by which he is now being held.
Some things about the cops’ discovery:
1. The dope was found on top of a water heater, where other objects in the same place were covered with dust, yet the bag holding the pot was not dusty.
2. Drug sniffing dogs participated in the search and found nothing.
3. Police say they photographed the search, including the discovery of the evidence. But they say the film was damaged, so they have no photographs.
4. Two men from Kirakosyan’s village were called in to witness the search. Both say nothing was found until a second search turned up the contraband. But both also say police coerced them into signing statements to the contrary.
I don’t know Lavrenti Kirakosyan. Nor do I share his view that Kocharyan ought to be kicked out of office.
I do, though, know that decent people in this country are routinely abused by the power structure Kocharyan represents. And I suspect many of those citizens would agree that the schemers in power are making a joke of the Council of Europe – a body that, for whatever mandates it might impose, seems terribly inept at enforcing compliance.
The upshot of the matter is this: Far from the eye of PACE, in Strasbourg, the heavys in Yerevan can make it appear as though they’re behaving properly. “Look,” they can say, “we didn’t jail a political dissident, we jailed a drug dealer.”
Lavrenti Kirakosyan faces 18 months in prison on, at best, questionable charges. And the message clearly enforced is that if authorities want to put somebody away, they’ll find a way to do it. Just like in the old days.
While we’re on the topic . . .
Edgar Arakelyan is serving an 18-month sentence stemming from his participation in a political rally that turned violent.
To break up a crowd of demonstrators, police used water canons, percussion grenades, tear gas and riot batons.
Arakelyan had a plastic water container, and when police struck with their weapons, he struck back with his, an empty Jermuk bottle.
Nearly three years ago a bodyguard for President Robert Kocharyan beat a man to death in a café. Aghamal “Kuku” Harutyunyan was found guilty of negligent manslaughter. He never saw the inside of a jail.
The sentence for throwing a plastic bottle during a police-dominated melee? Eighteen months.
The sentence for beating a man to death in a café? Zero months.
The difference? That’s the question the Council of Europe should consider if it is serious about enforcing human rights in Armenia.