In 1995, President Levon Ter-Petrossian tightened his grip on power amid indications the country was becoming more authoritarian. Nine parties, including the largest opposition group, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, were banned from participating in 5 July parliamentary elections, which were dominated by the President’s ruling Armenian National Movement and labeled “free but not fair” by international observers. Voters also adopted a new constitution giving the president virtual control of all government branches.
While the Soviet-era criminal code has largely been preserved, the new constitution enshrines the presumption of innocence and ensures people against self-incrimination or testifying against spouses or close relatives. Oppositionists say thirty-two opponents of the government, including twenty-two Dashnak members, are imprisoned and cases are pending against another sixty.Forty-year old ARF-Dashnak activist Artavazd Manukian died suspiciously in prison. Nine oppositionists were arrested in late July, including leading Dashnak member Vahan Hovanissian. Generally, defendants access to attorneys has been restricted, and lawyers themselves reported harassment, intimidation and beatings.
Freedom in the World: The Annual Survey of Political Rights
and Civil Liberties, 1995-1996
In January the Supreme court upheld a six month ban imposed on the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), for not complying with the law on political parties. Consequently the ARF was excluded from the July parliamentary elections, in which a majority of deputies elected were supporters of the policies of President Levon Ter-Petrossian.
Seventeen men who were arrested in connection with their alleged membership of a secret armed group named “Dro” within the ARF faced criminal proceedings that appeared to fall short of the international standards for fair trial. They had been charged with various criminal offenses from withholding information to premeditated murder (the latter carrying a possible death sentence). The trial of 11 of them began in July in Yerevan and was still continuing at the end of the year.Several of the defendants reported great difficulties in meeting freely and promptly with a lawyer of their own choice, and several of their lawyers reported problems in gaining access to relevant case materials during the investigation. Similar problems were reported in the case of senior ARF member Vahan Ovanessian [Hovanissian] who was arrested in late July for allegedly planning an assassination campaign, although the Constitution adopted earlier that month guaranteed prompt access to a defense lawyer.
Three lawyers linked with the so called “Dro” case, several opposition journalists, and members of religious minorities were among those physically assaulted by people they believed had links with official structures. The incidents were reportedly not adequately investigated by the police and by the end of the year no one had been arrested for these attacks.
AI: Report 1996