Proposal to reinstate death penalty for treason sparks outcry

By Mark Dovich

A proposal by outgoing Prosecutor General Artur Davtyan to reintroduce capital punishment for treason has sparked outcry in Armenia and prompted government infighting between his agency and the office of the country’s Human Rights Defender.

On Thursday, Davtyan revealed that he had reached out to Justice Minister Karen Andreasyan, recommending that the constitution be changed to allow for the death penalty for treason. In such cases, there is a “need to apply the strongest punishment,” Davtyan said, “up to the use of the death penalty.”

As of now, Armenia’s constitution bans all executions. That provision could be changed only by a national referendum.

Andreasyan heads Armenia’s Constitutional Reforms Council, a body that brings together government officials and leading civil society activists to study possible amendments to the country’s constitution. The commision was set up by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in January.

Andreasyan refused to comment on Davtyan’s proposal in an interview Thursday with the Armenpress state news agency, saying only the council “is definitely discussing and paying attention to all the opinions and proposals made.”

A spokesperson for Andreasyan declined to comment further when contacted by CivilNet on Friday.

Davtyan’s comments were widely reported in the Armenian press and quickly sparked criticism from Kristinne Grigoryan, the head of the Human Rights Defender’s office, a government body.

Grigoryan, who also sits on the Constitutional Reforms Council, wrote on Facebook Thursday that she “does not consider the discussion of such a proposal appropriate, because it greatly violates the right to life and the constitutional and democratic values of human rights protection.”

Later that day, Davtyan’s office hit back, telling Armenpress it “expressed regret” over Grigoryan’s comments, saying they were made “in a very hasty manner, without making the proposal’s deep reasons and justifications a subject of discussion.”

Davtyan’s proposal has also prompted debate over Armenia’s international commitments to abolish capital punishment. His office has argued publicly that the proposal would comply with two Council of Europe conventions on human rights that Armenia has ratified.

Daniel Ioannisyan, a well-known civil society activist with the Union of Informed Citizens, has cast doubt on those claims. He wrote on Facebook Thursday that the Prosecutor General’s office “would do well to know that, in addition to its obligations to the Council of Europe,” Armenia has also ratified a United Nations treaty banning executions in all circumstances.

Davtyan’s office has not publicly commented on how Armenia’s UN commitments could impact the proposal.

Ioannisyan, who is also a member of the Constitutional Reforms Council, added that he could “rule out any discussion of reinstating the death penalty. I’m sure this issue won’t even be on the council’s agenda.”

Davtyan’s six-year tenure as prosecutor general is set to end later this month, after the ruling Civil Contract party declined to renominate him for a second term and chose to replace him with Anna Vardapetyan, who currently works as Pashinyan’s assistant.

Repeated attempts by CivilNet to contact Vardapetyan for comment on Davtyan’s proposal went unanswered Friday.

Read also: Appointment of first woman prosecutor general refocuses attention on women’s low representation in government

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