Nikol Pashinian, a jailed opposition leader and newspaper editor, claimed to have been assaulted in his prison cell early on Thursday, an allegation categorically denied by Armenian law-enforcement authorities.
Pashinian told Zaruhi Postanjian, an opposition deputy who visited him later in the morning, that two masked men dressed in black woke and hit him overnight at the Kosh prison located about 20 kilometers west of Yerevan. He said the beating stopped after attracting the attention of 18 other inmates sharing the cell with him and prison guards.
Postanjian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that none of the prisoners confirmed Pashinian’s claims. But she said she thinks “such an incident could have taken place,” arguing that the prison is overcrowded and lacks security personnel.
The Armenian Justice Ministry, which runs the country’s prisons, laughed off Pashinian’s claims, saying that prison officials examined Pashinian’s body and questioned the other inmates immediately after he “made noise” at around 3 a.m.
“No injuries were detected as a result of the examination, while prisoners testified that there was no violence,” the ministry said in a statement. “Some suggested that [the alleged beating] was Nikol Pashinian’s latest night dream.”
The outspoken editor of the opposition daily “Haykakan Zhamanak,” who was jailed for his role in the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan, already accused the prison authorities of seeking to bully him last month. He claimed that a group of prisoners loyal to the Kosh administration warned him to stop writing articles for the paper. He said he avoided harsh mistreatment only thanks to a last-minute intervention by representatives of the state human rights ombudsman, Armen Harutiunian.
Those allegations too were dismissed by the Justice Ministry. It said on Thursday that Pashinian is keen to create “an illusion of violence” against him for political reasons.
Pashinian, 35, was among several prominent opposition figures who went into hiding in March 2008 following a government crackdown on supporters of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian demanding a re-run of a disputed presidential election. He surrendered to the authorities in July 2009 and was subsequently sentenced to seven years in prison on charges of stirring up “mass disturbances” in Yerevan that left ten people dead.
The oppositionist will have to serve only half of the prison sentence because of a general amnesty declared by the authorities in June 2009. Both he and Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress consider the case politically motivated.