Nikol Pashinian, a jailed opposition leader, can have his harsh prison sentence shortened by half in line with a general amnesty declared by the Armenian authorities last June, the state human rights ombudsman, Armen Harutiunian, said on Tuesday.
An amnesty bill passed by the National Assembly at the time mandated the immediate release of all opposition figures that were arrested following the March 2008 unrest in Yerevan and subsequently sentenced to up to five years in prison. The bill also said that other oppositionists, who received harsher punishment, can be set free after serving only half of their jail sentences.
Pashinian was given a seven-year jail term last month for his alleged role in the deadly clashes between opposition protesters and security forces. A Yerevan court that handed down the controversial ruling said nothing about the amnesty bill’s applicability to the outspoken editor of the opposition “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily.
His lawyers believe that he does qualify for early release. They insist at the same time that Pashinian is innocent and should not have been imprisoned in the first place. The lawyers last week formally asked Armenia’s Court of Appeals to clear their client of organizing the 2008 “mass disturbances” that left ten people dead and more than 200 others injured.
Speaking to RFE/RL's Armenian service, Ombudsman Harutiunian expressed hope that the court will apply the amnesty to Pashinian in case it upholds the guilty verdict. “The amnesty bill does apply [to Pashinian] because it has do with [the events of] March 1,” he said.
The Armenian Ministry of Justice has so far reserved judgment on the matter, saying that judicial proceedings in the Pashinian case are still not over.