Armenia’s highest court of criminal justice on Wednesday upheld a controversial prison that was given to opposition leader and newspaper editor Nikol Pashinian for his alleged role in the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan.
The Court of Cassation rejected appeals against two lower court rulings on the case that were lodged by both Pashinian and state prosecutors.
A Yerevan district court found him guilty on January 19 of stirring up the March 2008 “mass disturbances” that left ten people dead and more than 200 others injured. It sentenced the outspoken editor of the “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily to seven years in prison.
The Court of Appeals upheld the ruling on March 9. But it also ruled that Pashinian will serve only about half of the controversial sentence in accordance with a general amnesty declared by the Armenian authorities last June.
The Court of Cassation dismissed as “baseless” Pashinian lawyers’ claims that the lower court rulings are unfair and that their client is a victim of “political persecution.” It also rejected a separate appeal from prosecutors. They protested against the lower courts’ decision to clear Pashinian of an accusation of assaulting a police officer during an October 2007 opposition demonstration in Yerevan.
The defense lawyers condemned the verdict as politically motivated and reaffirmed their plans to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Pashinian, 34, was one of the most popular speakers at the anti-government protests staged by opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian following the February 2008 presidential election. He took the center stage in the campaign on March 1, 2008 when thousands of opposition supporters barricaded themselves in central Yerevan hours after the break-up of Ter-Petrosian’s non-stop rallies in the city’s Liberty Square.
The ensuing clashes between protesters and security forces led the outgoing President Robert Kocharian to declare a state of emergency and order mass arrests of opposition members. Pashinian was among several senior opposition figures who went underground and avoided arrest.
He came out of hiding and was immediately placed under arrest in July 2009 following the declaration of the amnesty. Under the terms of the amnesty, the oppositionist would have walked free if had been sentenced to up to five years’ imprisonment.
Pashinian tried unsuccessfully to win a vacant seat in Armenia’s parliament in a by-election held in a Yerevan constituency on January 10. Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) denounced the vote, won by a pro-government candidate, as fraudulent. It regards Pashinian and over a dozen other opposition supporters remaining in jail as political prisoners.