Friday, June 06, 2008

Chief Prosecutor Slams Ombudsman Over Unrest Report

RFE/RL Armenia Report - 06/05/2008
By Karine Kalantarian

Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian strongly criticized Armenia's human rights Ombudsman Armen Harutiunian on Thursday for challenging the official version of the deadly street clashes that followed the recent presidential election.

The Armenian authorities have defended the use of lethal force against thousands of supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian who barricaded themselves on a street junction outside the Yerevan mayor's office hours after the break-up of their 10-day sit-in in the city's Liberty Square on March 1. They say security forces that tried to disperse the angry crowd were not only pelted with stones and Molotov cocktails but also came under gunfire.

Harutiunian cast doubt on the credibility of the official theory in an extensive report issued in late April. The report said in particular that the Armenian police have yet to publicize any evidence of the use of firearms by the protesters. It stressed that the deadly violence was sparked by the dispersal of some 2,000 Ter-Petrosian supporters camped out in Liberty Square. It said that contrary to police assurances the protesters were `not given any time to stop the rally.'

The Office of the Prosecutor-General and the Ministry of Justice voiced strong objections to the ombudsman's findings in separate reports released late last month. The move led the human rights committee of the Armenian parliament to hold hearings on the controversy.

Speaking at the hearings, Hovsepian claimed that Harutiunian's report is based on `unfounded' opposition claims and is therefore not objective. He said the ombudsman also overstepped his constitutional powers by making recommendations. `It is obvious that by publicly raising questions you did not seek to get answers to them and pursued other goals,' he told Harutiunian.

In his speech before the panel, Harutiunian rejected the accusations. He claimed that the Office of the Prosecutor-General and the Justice Ministry deliberately `distorted' the content of his report in order to avoid answering questions raised by it. He also said Armenia's constitution and laws do not empower the prosecutors to challenge statements made by the human rights defender.

That claim was echoed by David Harutiunian (no relation), chairman of the parliament committee on legal affairs and one of the few lawmakers who defended the ombudsman during the hearings. `There is nothing wrong with the prosecutor's office presenting its position,' he told RFE/RL. `But am concerned that the issues raised by the prosecutor's office are quite politically motivated. There is a desire to defend the authorities which I think is unacceptable.'

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