Garo Yegnukian, who was arrested on charges of supporting the members of the “Sasna Dzrer” group, sent an open letter to the head of the EU Delegation to Armenia Piotr Świtalski.
Dear Mr. Switalski,
Generally, I am a strong propagandist of Armenia’s western orientation and more specifically in joining the European Union (EU) family in the nearest possible future. The Comprehensive Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) that the EU intends to sign with Armenia in November is a strictly limited and toothless version of the European Union Association Agreement (EUAA) that was supposed to have been entered into in 2013 when Serzh Sargsyan made a unilateral, personal and a haphazard decision to ditch it in favor of an unknown and untested Eurasian Economic Union composed of countries which all have autocratic and dictatorial regimes. To believe that Serzh Sargsyan will not do the same this time around is naive to say the least, regardless how well the EU is prepared with “paper and ink”. Fortunately, CEPA apparently still retains most of the political aspect of the EUAA and I intend to draw your attention to a fundamental issue of political prisoners. EU as the vanguard of human rights and fundamental freedoms should never enter into an agreement with a regime that has political prisoners.
The purpose of my letter is not only to inform you how I feel nor what Serzh Sargsyan will or will not do, but rather to clarify your position in official capacity and the EU’s justification by extension, on the decision to go into an agreement with an autocratic regime that unabashedly and in broad daylight continuously and methodically violates the human rights and fundamental freedoms of its “undesirable” political opponents thus subjecting them to political persecution. I am one of those politically persecuted and prosecuted opponents of the regime who along with over 70 others have been arrested and incarcerated on unsubstantiated charges. The abuse of pretrial detention has been prevalent through all of the political cases in Armenia. The use of false or contradictory testimony and non-existent or inadmissible evidence are tools that Sargsyan’s regime uses to silence any voice of dissent.
A politically persecuted person who is deprived of his freedom by being incarcerated automatically becomes a political prisoner when the arrest and incarceration were politically motivated. When political persecution before the arrest and political prosecution after the arrest are apparent; then the trumped up and unsubstantiated criminal charges that the political prisoner is charged with are irrelevant excuses for punishing an opposing view. As you know most countries (except for a few like Turkey and Azerbaijan) do not have politically motivated laws in their criminal code, therefore in those countries, like Armenia, political prosecution is camouflaged under false criminal charges. For that reason one has to scrutinize the underlying factors prior to the arrest and how due process is being violated during pretrial period in order to determine whether that person is a political prisoner.
Political persecution and prosecution as well as the definition of who is a political prisoner are political evaluations and not legal terms that laws can regulate or courts can adjudicate, therefore, I was greatly dismayed at your position regarding the existence of political prisoners in Armenia during the September 14, 2017 press conference. You, responded by saying that you and by extension the EU, are aware of the claims by Human Rights (HR) organizations and NGOs of the existence of political prisoners in Armenia and that you have discussed this issue with the Armenian authorities, however the EU not always shares the opinion of HR organizations and NGOs and mostly bases its opinion on decisions made by European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). You further added that “as is well known the ECtHR has not determined that there are any political prisoners in Armenia”. Your statement begs two questions: 1. Does ECtHR have a mandate to determine who is a political prisoner? 2. Has the ECtHR ever made such a decision in its 58-year history? The answer to both of these questions is no.
As you know, the Council of Europe (CE) in 1953 created the International Treaty to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms otherwise known as European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). In its turn the ECHR established the ECtHR in 1959, where any person who feels a state party has violated his/her human rights of fundamental freedoms under the ECHR can take a case to the ECtHR. Please note that the ECHR “by definition” cannot and does not have the legal framework based on which it can dictate the ECtHR to adjudicate as to who is a political prisoner, since as I mentioned above, that is a political decision and not a legal one, therefore courts cannot pass such adjudications. Theoretically, the ECtHR could make a “political” statement in its decision by stating for example that “Garo Yegnukian’s human rights and fundamental freedoms have been violated and those violations were politically motivated, therefore Garo Yegnukian is a political prisoner”. However, the part of the decision that states that I am a political prisoner would be non-binding, unenforceable and as the 58 year history of ECtHR proves, it is also with no precedent.
It is quite telling that the CE encountered this problem of defining the term “political prisoner” for the first time in 2001, when Armenia and Azerbaijan were applying for membership in CE. Their acceptance was put on hold due to claims of existence of political prisoners. Finding the necessity to resolve the issue of defining the term “political prisoner”, the CE mandated the independent experts of the Secretary General to define the term “political prisoner” and assess cases of alleged political prisoners in Armenia and Azerbaijan. Subsequently both States released all their political prisoners and were admitted to the CE.
The next time the issue of political prisoners was revisited was in 2012 when the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe (PACE) had a comprehensive debate and explicitly approved and reaffirmed in Resolution 1900 – “The definition of political prisoner”. Five separate criteria were established, based on which it can be determined who is a political prisoner. PACE had invited and encouraged in that resolution for “the competent authorities of all the Member States of the CE to reassess the cases of any alleged political prisoners by application of the above-mentioned criteria and to release or retry any such prisoners as appropriate.” As in 2001, when the CE set a precondition to release political prisoners prior to being accepted to the CE, the EU should also demand from the Armenian authorities to do the same prior to entering into any agreement as a precondition before signing it in November.
Human rights and fundamental freedoms are the cornerstone of EU’s values, while the violation of those rights on political grounds results in the creation of political prisoners as defined by PACE criteria. The EU cannot and should not under any circumstances cooperate, enter into agreements, finance government programs and institutions or provide any other support to a regime that has over 70 political prisoners and countless others who are politically persecuted. Any form of cooperation between the EU and this regime should be conditioned at least by the immediate release of all political prisoners. I and the other political prisoners along with numerous HR organizations and other NGOs have declared and substantiated the fact of the existence of political prisoners in Armenia. The only guide that the EU has available to determine the veracity of those claims and make judgment is the criteria established by PACE, based on which you and the EU can only make a political decision of the existence of political prisoners.
Below are the 5 criteria provided by PACE where only 1 is sufficient for determining political prisoner status.
“The Assembly reaffirms its support for these criteria, summed up as follows: “A person deprived of his or her personal liberty is to be regarded as a ‘political prisoner’: a. if the detention has been imposed in violation of one of the fundamental guarantees set out in the European Convention on Human Rights and its Protocols (ECHR), in particular freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of expression and information, freedom of assembly and association;
b. if the detention has been imposed for purely political reasons without connection to any offence;
c. if, for political motives, the length of the detention or its conditions are clearly out of proportion to the offence the person has been found guilty of or is suspected of; d. if, for political motives, he or she is detained in a discriminatory manner as compared to other persons; or, e. if the detention is the result of proceedings which were clearly unfair and this appears to be connected with political motives of the authorities.” ”
If you cannot determine based on information available to you or if you do not want to rely on the claims by the political prisoners and the NGOs, then at least for my part I can provide you with voluminous additional information on how I was politically persecuted for the past 5 years, how I was illegally arrested without any legal basis, how I have been politically prosecuted and illegally incarcerated on pretrial (and during “trial”) detention for the past 15 months and finally how point by point 4 out of 5 PACE criteria apply in my case, keeping in mind that only 1 is enough to prove the status of a political prisoner. I look forward to your favorable reply and if needed await your request for additional information regarding my case.
Garo Yegnukian, Esq.