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The Use of Administrative Detention in the 2003 Armenian Presidential Election
Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper
May 23, 2003
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Table of Contents

Administrative Arrest and Detention in Theory and Practice

    The legal and procedural framework
    Departures from the framework in practice
    Growing political use of administrative detention since the mid-1990s
    The 2003 presidential election

    The legal and procedural framework
    The 1988 Republic of Armenia Code of Administrative Offenses governs minor public order offenses that do not accrue a criminal record. It retains many references to obsolete Soviet laws and institutions, and has some internal inconsistencies, but does set out key due process guarantees for defendants. However, these do not include a clear right of appeal, and they are often couched in vague language that leaves room for multiple interpretations.

    Several articles of the Code provide for a penalty of detention, notably: 172, "Petty hooliganism;" 180.1: "Violation of the defined procedure for organizing and holding meetings, marches, and demonstrations;" and 182: "Malicious disobedience of a legal order made by the police or people's militia."3

    According to the Code, cases brought under the preceding articles are heard by district court judges. Cases brought under some other articles may be heard by administrative commissions formed by a wider range of non-judicial official bodies, such as local executive authorities and the police (Article 223).

    Articles 261 and 262 of the Code give the police the right to arrest alleged violators of public order for up to three hours. However, in one of the Code's apparent contradictions, Article 262 also stipulates that: "People arrested for violating the defined procedure for holding meetings, marches, and demonstrations, or for acts of minor hooliganism, are detained for as long as necessary before their case is investigated by a judge or police chief."

    The defendant has the right to familiarize himself with the case materials, give explanations, make intercessions and petitions, call witnesses, and be represented by a lawyer, who may exercise these rights on his client's behalf (Articles 267, 270, 271). The court report, drawn up after the hearing, includes an account of "[t]he explanations of the parties to the case, their intercessions" and "information on making the decision public, clarification of the terms and procedures for making an appeal" (Article 280).

    If the court or administrative commission finds the defendant guilty ("administratively liable"), the resulting decision must include details of what the investigation found, and the normative act the offender has violated (Article 281). The sanction determined by the court or administrative commission takes effect immediately, and a copy of the decision is sent to the offender within three days (Article 283).

    The Code does not offer the defendant a clear procedure or avenue for making an appeal. This right can be inferred from several of its articles (270, 286, 288), yet the Code also states that the decisions of district courts are final (Articles 286, 287). It allows appeals to be filed within ten days of sentencing, either "to a higher body" or "by a procurator." The offender may appeal after this deadline if he can convince the relevant body that there were valid reasons for the delay. Significantly, article 290 of the Code excludes all the articles that set out sentences of administrative detention (e.g. 172, 180.1, 182) from its provision for suspension of the sentence pending the final decision of the appeal, although an appeal lodged by a procurator does suspensory effect (Article 250).

    Departures from the framework in practice
    In practice, the Armenian police and district courts have introduced short cuts and arbitrariness into implementation of the Code. These first came under a spotlight in 1996, after they were applied against political demonstrators. Prominent Armenian lawyer Tigran Janoian commented: "Procedural abuses in the implementation of the Code were not widely known about prior to 1996, probably because until then the victims were non-political. It was much more hidden."4 The chairman of the Yerevan Center and Nork-Marash District Court confirmed that Articles 267, 270, 271, and 280 are routinely violated, stating that: "In administrative cases there is no argument ... lawyers take part in very few cases. But even when they do, they are largely redundant anyway, since their interventions are not recorded. No report of the proceedings is made."5

    The way in which "administrative" justice is implemented has come to be shaped by the larger defects of Armenia's criminal justice system, in which the prosecution is traditionally strong, and legal defense weak.6 District court judges lack genuine independence,7 and tend not to challenge the law enforcement agencies. District courts have proved compliant in handing out ten- or fifteen-day "administrative" sentences, often simply on a police officer's assertion that the defendant swore at him or disobeyed his instruction. The Armenian Helsinki Committee opined that: "while dispensing administrative justice, courts in fact perform `the function of an office of a notary public' for the police."8

    According to Armenian human rights defenders, police now make frequent recourse to Articles 172 and 182 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, in order to detain people for questioning on crimes unrelated to the alleged public order misdemeanor,9 or to extend a criminal suspect's preliminary detention in a police lockup beyond the seventy-two hours allowed under the criminal procedure code.10

    Extending a suspect's time in a lockup in this manner allows the police more time to isolate and put pressure on the individual while they construct a more substantial criminal charge. In the past four years, at least one death in detention and several cases of alleged torture have been associated with detention under the Code of Administrative Offenses.11

    Growing political use of administrative detention since the mid-1990s
    The first mass use of administrative detention in a political context was made against more than 200 supporters of defeated presidential candidate Vazgen Manukian, in September and October 1996. The arrests followed a large September 25 demonstration protesting election fraud, during which some of Manukian's supporters broke into parliament, beating the speaker and his deputy. The administrative arrests were accompanied by forced closures of opposition parties, numerous police beatings, and an army presence on the streets of the capital.

    According to an analysis prepared by the Armenian Helsinki Committee, criminal charges were worked up against many of the opposition supporters while they were serving administrative detention sentences and denied defense counsel. Some of the administrative detention sentences were handed out to punish infractions allegedly committed in public places at times when, according to the materials of the subsequent criminal cases, the defendants were in police detention, undergoing interrogation. The police were able to get away with such tactics because: "The [administrative offenses] trials were held without the presence of the alleged `perpetrators,' without hearing their explanations, without ascertaining those persons' whereabouts, and, most importantly, only on the basis of the reports submitted by policemen."12

    Administrative detention was again used on a large scale in 2002, when authorities responded to a series of protest rallies held in the capital by targeting participants, rather than the leaders. A series of demonstrations in Yerevan started in April 2002 as a protest against the removal of broadcasting rights from the independent A1+ television company, and were kept up until June by a group of opposition parties, which used them to call for President Kocharian's resignation or impeachment. In the days following such rallies, police detained protestors at their homes, or summoned them to local police stations. Dozens were put through district courts, and handed administrative fines or detention, in what appeared to be concerted action directed at deterring further participation in the continuing rallies.13

    The 2003 presidential election
    President Robert Kocharian, the incumbent, appeared to hold overwhelming advantages in the election campaign.14 Yet in the lead up to the first round of voting on February 19, two opposition candidates, Stepan Demirchian15 and Artashes Geghamian, attracted significant support. Kocharian garnered just less than 50 percent of the votes cast, and, pursuant to Armenian election law, a runoff between Kocharian and Demirchian was announced for March 5.

    Successive pro-Demirchian rallies between the first round and the runoff attracted tens of thousands to the center of Yerevan. The authorities began arrests of Demirchian campaign staff and candidate proxies on February 22, sentencing dozens of them to terms of administrative detention, mostly for having participated in "unauthorized" rallies.

    Allegations of widespread ballot stuffing, intimidation, and problems with tabulation marred both the first round and the March 5 runoff. The Demirchian campaign disputed Kocharian's victory, and continued a series of peaceful protest rallies in subsequent weeks. The authorities responded with dozens more administrative arrests.

    Demirchian challenged the election result in the Armenian Constitutional Court. On April 16 the court ruled that the election result should stand, but that the use of administrative detention in the context of the election harmed Demirchian's campaign and violated Armenia's obligations under international law.16

    3 Under these articles, there are three main sentencing options: either a fine or a 20 percent deduction from the offender's salary, lasting one to two months and known as "correctional labor." "Administrative detention of up to fifteen days" is a third sentencing option reserved for, "exceptional cases, where due to the circumstances of the case and a consideration of the personality of the offender it is judged that the aforementioned sanctions will prove insufficient." The other articles under which detention sentences of up to fifteen days are possible are 175 - drinking or being drunk in public; and 97.2 and 97.3 - careless disposal of nuclear waste, or interfering with the work of officials at nuclear sites.

    4 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, Yerevan, May 21, 2003.

    5 Human Rights Watch interview with Zhora Vartanian, Yerevan, March 11, 2003.

    6 See ArmeniaWeek articles, Zara Chatinian, "Arguing the Case: Tradition of legal defense evolves slowly," February 22, 2002; and Zhanna Alexanian, "A Question of Law: What is an insult?" November 9, 2001. Available in the `Archives' section at

    7 The Ministry of Justice nominates such judges for terms of five years, through the Council of Justice, a judicial oversight body chaired by the president of Armenia. The Armenian Helsinki Committee showed that at least one judge of Yerevan's Center and Nork-Marash District Court has declared his subordination to the Ministry in his official letterhead. See T. Janoian and L.Simonian, "The System of Administrative Justice in Armenia," Ditord/Observer magazine No. 4, 2002. Available at:

    8 T. Janoian and L.Simonian, "The System of Administrative Justice in Armenia," Ditord/Observer magazine No. 4, 2002. Available at:

    9 Three of twenty-seven men arrested at their homes in Lori region on the morning of December 19, 2000, and given ten-day administrative detention sentences for disobeying police officers (Article 182 of the code), complained to a local human rights defender that they were all interrogated about a murder. Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Arthur Sakunts, President of the Vanadzor office of The Helsinki Citizens' Assembly, May 12, 2003.

    10 Under article 11.3 of the criminal procedure code, after seventy-two hours any detained person must either be released or brought before a court on a criminal charge. Article 62.2 of the criminal procedure code reiterates the same guarantee in respect of criminal suspects.

    11 Amnesty International reported that Eduard Vardanian went to Abovian police station successively on February 25 and 26, 1999 to be questioned as a suspect in a murder case. On the second visit he was detained. When his mother went to the police station on March 1 she was told he had been cleared of involvement in the murder, but was sentenced to five days administrative detention as of that morning, for having twice failed to respond to a police summons to give evidence. She was asked to come to the police station again on March 4, when she was told that her son had thrown himself out of an upstairs window the previous evening and died, after confessing to a murder. "Armenia: Torture and ill-treatment: Comments on the second periodic report to the United Nations Committee against Torture," April 1, 2000, available at: In another case, Karen Harutiunian and brothers Araik and Argishti Movsisian told the Armenian Helsinki Human Rights Association that they and a fourth man were tortured regularly the first half of a ten-day administrative detention sentence handed them by the Yerevan Center and Nork-Marash District Court. Police had detained them on August 9, 2002 and allegedly beat them, seeking confessions to robbery and murder. Before the expiry of the criminal procedure code's seventy-two hour limit for police detention the four were charged and sentenced for administrative offenses allegedly committed on August 10, 2002. The detainees claimed that during their administrative detention they were regularly handcuffed to chairs and beaten on the body with truncheons and chair legs. Araik Movsisian said that the mistreatment included asphyxiation - police officers tightened a belt around his neck, forced him to wear a gasmask, and restricted its air-intake. Mikael Danielian, chairman of the Helsinki Association, "Tortures in Armenia are still underway," available at:, and email to Human Rights Watch, April 23, 2003.

    12 T. Janoian and L.Simonian, "The System of Administrative Justice in Armenia," Ditord/Observer magazine No. 4, 2002. Online at:, accessed March 3, 2003.

    13 Various news sources, e.g. Helsinki Human Rights Association article: "The Opposition Arrests, " May 30 - July 2, 2002, available at; Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Armenia report: "Opposition claims `unprecedented' police crackdown on activists," May 17, 2002, available here.

    14 At the outset of the campaign, opposition to Kocharian was split between ten rival candidates. Virtually all the broadcast media were supportive of Kocharian. The electoral code handed the president and allied political parties the majority of nominations to all election commissions. For additional background information, see Human Rights Watch, World Report 2002, "Armenia,":

    15 Stepan Demirchian is the son of the late Karen Demirchian, the former Soviet-era leader of Armenia, who, while serving as parliamentary speaker, was killed when gunmen invaded the Armenian parliament in October 1999. In March 1998 Karen Demirchian was defeated in a presidential election runoff by Robert Kocharian that many international observers denounced as flawed.

    16 "Decision of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Armenia on the case of the dispute on the results of the elections for the Republic of Armenia president held on March 5, 2003," No. 412, Yerevan, April 16, 2003 (unofficial translation made available to Human Rights Watch).