Taking stock of the forty (40) statements issued by the Armenian Rights Watch Committee (ARWC) of the Armenian Bar Association in the last four years, we note today our most recent unreleased statement.
That statement addressed the April 22, 2018 kidnapping and arrest in broad daylight of a member of Armenia’s National Assembly, while he led a peaceful protest in Yerevan, by Armenian “Special Forces.” His release within 24 hours rendered the issuance of our statement unnecessary, at least in the immediate term. What transpired next is well known to Armenians the world over and even to non-Armenians throughout the world: the dawn of a “New Armenia.”
While we paused at issuing the statement then due to quickly changing political events, the message encapsulated in that unreleased statement remains relevant today. Sure, we rejoice now in the victory of our people and share in the elation of all who are experiencing the euphoria of civil society’s triumph over oppression. However, we cannot forget that many whose collective efforts formed the life-blood of the struggle toward securing such freedom remain today—right now—behind bars, charged with politically driven offenses.
Some of these political prisoners have been imprisoned for days while others, such as Garo Yegnukian, have been incarcerated for well over 18 months. The list includes those whose “convictions” and commensurate sentences, as in the cases of Jirayr Sefilian and Kevork Safarian, call into question the truth and veracity of the charges levied against them and even the legal processes which yielded their guilty verdicts. The sore truth is that the list of political prisoners in Armenia is long—in fact, it is intolerably long for a New Armenia.
We find it here appropriate to express our recognition of and appreciation for what appears to be—in less than a fortnight following the dawn of Armenia’s new age—the gradual rising of the tattered iron curtain of repression and reprisals against dissidents. Just today, the most recent of political prisoners was released from unwarranted detention. All of Armenia’s tomorrows and its days-after should be heralded with the tolling bells of freedom, dignity and happiness for all of its citizens.
We call upon the emerging leadership to implement immediately a swift and timely review of the cases of each of the persons imprisoned by that regime which the people of Armenia have emphatically rejected and victoriously overcome. Our appeal today joins the many which preceded it in which we unsheathed blades of light against the man-made blackout of human and civil rights. We urge authorities to revisit the bases of each political prisoner’s pre-trial detention circumstances. We expect reversals, releases and—at the very least—the reunifications of these men with their families pending their respective trials.
As for those who’ve been “convicted” and condemned to sentences already, we request that the authorities conduct an immediate review of the legality of the relevant criminal proceedings and assess the very real prospect that due process was violated in those trial proceedings and/or during post-trial sentencing.
In the New Armenia, the promise of truth and justice, must be held firmly. While we realize the hope that the New Armenia brings the future, we cannot forget the responsibility it has to justly remedy the wrongs of the past.
ARMENIAN RIGHTS WATCH COMMITTEE—ARWC;
ARMENIAN BAR ASSOCIATION