Archive for June, 2007

Proposed legal amendments target RFE / RL

June 28, 2007

Today the Armenian parliament discussed two controversial bills about making changes to existing laws on “Government Duties” and “Television and Radio Broadcasters”. The proposed amendments are widely seen as primarily targeting Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty. If made law, these bills will ban Public Television and Radio from airing programs of foreign broadcasters and will impose weighty duties on private broadcasters willing to air those programs.

RFE / RL relies on heavily on Armenian Public Radio for broadcasting it’s programs. Few other radio stations have anything close to the Public Radio’s coverage. Besides that, migrating to a private broadcaster and paying the high duties might prove impossible for RFE / RL, at a time when the US government is considering cutting funding to the service.

RFE / RL regularly airs it’s news, analytical and youth programs on Public Radio and less, on some private frequencies. With the exception of newspapers and internet news sites, it is by far the only substantially independent media in Armenia. Rumors about the authorities’ desire to close down RFE / RL have been circulating for several months, however this is the first real step in that direction.

Parliament is expected to vote tomorrow on the issue. With the the coalition and the ARF having publicly declared support for the proposals, it is almost certain that the bills will become law. Nevertheless, in the course of today’s parliamentary discussions Tigran Torosyan, the National Assembly Speaker, as well as a number of other legislators denied any suggestions that the proposals target freedom of speech in the country and RFE / RL in particular. The bills were harshly criticized both by opposition representatives in parliament and Armenia’s civil society in general. Supporters of the amendments state concerns, that foreign broadcasters have an advantage over local TV and Radio companies, however, it has been noted, that retranslators of foreign TV channels (a number of Russian TV channels as well as CNN and Euronews are available in Armenia) , who do not fall under the proposed duties, are the ones with the real advantage.


Government program passes in parliament

June 27, 2007

In a vote on June 26th, the Armenian parliament accepted the government’s program, presented by prime minister Serge Sargsyan. Arminfo reports that the program is mainly oriented towards social issues. In his presentation Serge Sargsyan stated the government’s efforts of keeping annual GDP growth averaging 8-10% for the next five years.

The program was accepted by a 94 vote majority, with the coalition and ARF voting for it, the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) and Orinats Erkir (Country of Law) respectfully voting against and abstaining from a vote.

Independent examination appears to confirm official version

June 26, 2007

Aravot published some short excerpts from the examination results of Levon Gulyan’s body. Although the document is still not fully translated, the newspaper obtained parts of it containing the conclusions made as to the reason of Gulyan’s death. From what is available it appears that the independent examination generally confirms the official examination results, in that Gulyan died as result of a fall to the ground. The commission also observed some injuries which appear to have been inflicted before the fall, however no connection was found between them and Gulyan’s death.

It was widely believed that the independent examination’s results would confirm Gulyan’s relatives’ claims that he was beaten to death in the police headquarters and only then thrown down from a window, in an attempt to conceal the police’s guilt. The police claim that Gulyan fell either committing suicide, or in an attempt to flee the police headquarters, where he was being questioned. Investigations are still ongoing and indictments are still possible as the Armenian criminal code contains an article on “Driving a person to suicide”.

NKR to hold elections

June 25, 2007

Presidential elections in Nagorno Karabakh are to be held on July 19th. The current president, Arkadi Ghukasyan, is in his second term and cannot run for president for a third time. Bako Sahakyan, currently head of the National Security Service, is seen as a likely winner. He has the support of Mr. Ghukasyan, as well as several political forces both in Armenia and the NKR. Recently, the “Erkrapah” Karabakh war veterans’ union declared support for Mr. Sahakyan.

Other notable candidates are Masis Mayilyan, currently deputy foreign minister, and Vanya Ovannisyan, a professor at the Artsakh State University.

Court satisfies Zharangutyun’s Claims

June 22, 2007 reports that a court of first instance has satisfied the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party’s leader, Raffi Hovhannisyan’s suit against the Chief Prosecutor’s Office. The Prosecutor’s Office had last year declined Mr. Hovhannisyan’s request to start a criminal investigation into an alleged fact of hacking into Zharangutyun offices’ computers and theft of information. Mr. Hovhannisyan’s suit had gone from a court of first instance to the appeals court, then sent back to a court of first instance under another judge, who subsequently satisfied Mr. Hovhannisyan’s claims.

Levon Gulyan’s examination results arrive

June 22, 2007

A1plus reports that the results of the examination of the body of Levon Gulyan, made shortly after his death by a commission of independent medical experts from Europe, have finally reached Yerevan. The results were due several days after the experts left Yerevan, however they failed to arrive for almost a month, giving way to speculation around the issue.

No details are being given yet about the commission’s conclusions. It appears that the public will have to wait a few more days before the 17 page document is translated.

Raffi Hovhannisyan to participate in rerun

June 19, 2007

In an unexpected move, Raffi Hovhanisyan, leader of the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, declared his participation, in the upcoming rerun of the majoritarian vote in one of the constituencies, where the winning candidate, Republican Khachik Manukyan, had declined his mandate after the elections.

Interestingly, Mr. Manukyan is also to participate in the elections, after first declaring that he had decided to leave politics. This appears to give credibility to the opposition’s claims, that Mr. Manukyan’s refusal of his mandate was actually staged by Republican party leaders.

Mr. Hovhannisyan’s entry into the race has apparently got the other candidates on high alert. The Zharangutyun party was one of only two opposition parties to make it to parliament, and with the other party (Orinats Erkrir – Country of Law) still seen by many as being affiliated with the authorities, Zharangutyun and Mr. Hovhannisyan in person attract much public confidence.

More figures leave OE

June 15, 2007

Arminfo reports that three prominent members of the opposition Orinats Erkir (Country of Law) left the party. In a statement made by them, they, besides other things, accuse the party’s leadership of falsely stating loyalty to European values.

The party’s ranks have suffered significantly after it turned opposition early last year. This latest incident follows previously the party’s second person: Samvel Balasanyan’s loud departure, not long after the May 12th parliamentary vote.

Constitutional Court leaves election results intact

June 13, 2007

Last week saw what can be considered a final end of the post-electoral process. The Constitutional Court read out it’s ruling concerning four opposition parties’ suit questioning the May 12th parliamentary elections’ results. As was expected, the Court did not overrule the electoral commission’s results, stating that violations which had taken place did not affect the end result of the vote.

The Constitutional Court process was the last legal opportunity to declare the elections’ results invalid, and with the oppositions’ meetings gathering fewer people by the week, the parliamentary elections can be considered a closed chapter.

In a separate story last week, the winning majoritarian candidate in one of the constituencies unexpectedly declined his mandate. When contacted by reporters Republican Khachik Manukyan denied any knowledge of the incident. Afterwards, however, he declared that he had decided to stand back, after widespread allegations of violations and fraud concerning his election to parliament.  A rerun of the majoritarian vote in that constituency is scheduled for August 26th.

The opposition was quick to react to this incident, claiming that all Republican candidates are made to sign such applications before the elections and hand them over to the party leadership, which in turn can exercise them after the vote, if necessary.

Karabakh agreement not reached in St. Petersburg

June 12, 2007

The long anticipated meeting between Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s presidents took place on June 9th in St. Petersburg. Contrary to speculation circulating in Armenia and the OSCE Co-Chairs’ apparent optimism preceding this meeting, the two leaders failed to reach an agreement.

With upcoming presidential elections both in Armenia and Azerbaijan, the negotiation process is now expected to slow down till 2009. After that there will be at least one new leader (Robert Kocharia is bound to leave office in 2008) and many believe that will mean another setback for the negotiations.