Armenia’s Court of Appeals on Friday rejected opposition leader and newspaper editor Nikol Pashinian’s demand to quash a highly controversial extension of his imprisonment decided by prison authorities.
Pashinian was sentenced last year to seven years in prison on charges of organizing the 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan, a punishment both he and the Armenian opposition say is politically motivated. A general amnesty initiated by the government in June 2009 meant that he will have to serve only half of that sentence.
Prison authorities announced last fall Pashinian will walk free in June 2013, almost four years after surrendering to the Armenian police. The outspoken oppositionist 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 convicted individual. Pashinian and his lawyers say he should therefore be set free in January 2013.
State prosecutors initially agreed with these arguments but later changed tack, saying that the prison authorities made the right decision. An Armenian district court also found the decision lawful in a November ruling that dismissed the oppositionist’s protests.
The Court of Appeals upheld that ruling after nearly month-long hearings held at a prison near the northwestern Armenian town of Artik. Pashinian has been kept there since late November.
The jailed editor of the “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily predicted the rejection of his appeal before the announcement of the verdict. He accused the judges of executing orders issued by the Armenian government.
Pashinian claimed earlier that he is forced to spend more time in jail because President Serzh Sarkisian is scared of seeing him regain freedom before the next presidential election due in February 2013. The claim has been echoed by representatives of the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), of which he is a prominent member.
Pashinian was one of the most influential speakers at massive anti-government rallies organized by HAK leader 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, 35, is the most famous of about a dozen Ter-Petrosian loyalists remaining behind bars. The HAK considers them political prisoners and has declared their release a top priority. The authorities insist that none of them was jailed for political reasons.