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Authorities Move To Free Jailed Opposition Figure


Armenia -- Demonstrators hold up pictures of jailed opposition members Sasun Mikaelian (L) and Aram Bareghamian, 1Mar2011.

Armenia -- Demonstrators hold up pictures of jailed opposition members Sasun Mikaelian (L) and Aram Bareghamian, 1Mar2011.

The Armenian authorities signaled on Friday their intention to free Sasun Mikaelian, a former parliament deputy and one of the most prominent opposition figures controversially imprisoned by them in 2008.


Parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian and other leaders of the pro-government majority in the Armenian parliament asked President Serzh Sarkisian to consider pardoning Mikaelian. In a written appeal publicized by his press office, Abrahamian said they are concerned about the poor health of “our former colleague.”

The move came two days after Sarkisian hinted at the impending release of six members of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) remaining in jail. HAK leader Levon Ter-Petrosian predicted on Thursday that they all will be set free by May 28.

Like several other prominent Ter-Petrosian allies, Mikaelian was arrested following the March 2008 violence in Yerevan sparked by a disputed presidential election. In June 2009, they were controversially convicted of organizing what the authorities call “mass disturbances” that left ten people dead and more than 200 others injured.

Mikaelian, who is also a prominent veteran of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, was also found guilty of illegal arms possession. The resulting eight-year prison sentence given by a Yerevan court disqualified him from a 2009 general amnesty.

The authorities have so far been reluctant to free the 53-year-old oppositionist despite a serious deterioration of his health condition. Mikaelian has undergone two surgeries since 2008 and is still being kept in a prison hospital.

Earlier this month, two senior representatives of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) said the continuing imprisonment of Mikaelian and another influential opposition figure, Nikol Pashinian, is the “main impediment for the normalization of the political situation” in Armenia. They complained that the Armenian authorities are “not willing to demonstrate any leniency towards these two persons.”

The HAK considers Mikaelian, Pashinian and the other jailed oppositionists political prisoners.
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