An Armenian court on Friday rejected opposition leader Nikol Pashinian’s lawsuit against a controversial extension of his imprisonment by prison authorities.
Pashinian was sentenced early this year to seven years in prison for his role in the 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan, a punishment both he and the Armenian opposition consider politically motivated. A general amnesty initiated by the government last year means that he will have to serve only half of that sentence.
The prison authorities announced recently Pashinian will walk free in June 2013. The outspoken oppositionist, who surrendered to the police in July 2009, argues that they failed to take into account the time he spent in pre-trial detention.
Under Armenian law, the detention period should be deducted from the sentence given to a convict. Pashinian and his lawyers say he should therefore be set free in January 2013.
State prosecutors initially agreed with these arguments but later changed their stance, saying that the prison authorities made the right decision. A district court in the central Aragatsotn province also found it lawful.
Pashinian condemned the ruling as politically motivated, saying that President Serzh Sarkisian is scared of seeing him regain freedom before the next presidential election due in February 2013. “Clearly, Serzh Sarkisian and his regime are doing and will do everything to make sure that I get out of jail as late as possible,” he charged.
The outspoken editor of the “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily was one of the most influential speakers at massive anti-government rallies organized by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian before and after the February 2008 presidential ballot. The case against him stems from the suppression of those protests by security forces, which left ten people dead.
Pashinian also declared in the court that he is now being held incommunicado at the Kosh prison in Aragatsotn and is unable to write articles for his paper. “I don’t know what’s going on outside,” he said. “I don’t get newspapers. There is no TV or radio. I can’t send or receive letters.”
Pashinian was placed in solitary confinement a week ago after claiming to have been assaulted by unknown men. The prison administration and the Justice Ministry denied the claims and said he himself wanted to change his prison cell for security reasons. Pashinian insists, however, that he never made such a request.
The spokesman for a ministry department running Armenia’s prisons, Arsen Babayan, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that Pashinian will have to stay in the solitary cell until December 1. He said that is a punishment for a “violation of the internal prison regime” committed by Pashinian on Tuesday.
The oppositionist brushed aside the claim. “I want to disappoint them: it’s not possible to silence me,” he said. “I will fight endlessly, I will fight till the end, whether I’m in solitary confinement or anywhere else.”