Opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian told supporters that Armenians will not be imprisoned for their political activities anymore as he welcomed the release of his two prominent loyalists from prison over the weekend.
He gave these assurances to several hundred people who gathered in the central town of Hrazdan to greet Sasun Mikaelian, a former local parliamentarian released from prison on Friday. Mikaelian and another opposition figure, Nikol Pashinian, were set free in accordance with a general amnesty declared by the Armenian authorities.
“We must ensure that whenever someone thinks about throwing a person into jail for their political views and activities he is damned. There will never be any political prisoners in Armenia,” Ter-Petrosian said in a short speech.
The top leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) himself was accused by critics of jailing his opponents on politically motivated charges when he served as Armenia’s first president from 1991-1998.
Mikaelian and Pashinian, who were controversially imprisoned in connection with the March 2008 unrest in Yerevan, also spoke at the rally. Both men reaffirmed their intention to campaign for the ouster of Armenia’s current leadership. Mikaelian labeled it as a “gang.”
Pashinian made a case for the holding of fresh presidential and parliamentary elections, the key HAK demand. “I got out of jail yesterday and I haven’t since seen anything apart from prerequisites for pre-term elections,” he said in Hrazdan. “Who is it that doesn’t notice such prerequisites?”
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Monday, Pashinian likewise claimed that fresh elections are imminent. “Why did the authorities do something in which nobody believed? I mean our release,” he argued.
“I believe that at a certain point the authorities, despite being detached from reality, will regain their sense of reality under the influence of external and internal factors,” he said.
The Armenian authorities have repeatedly ruled out the possibility of snap polls. “There are neither political nor legal grounds to hold pre-term elections in our country,” Eduard Sharmazanov, the spokesman for President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), repeated on Monday.
“Pre-term elections take place when there is a political crisis in the country,” Sharmazanov told journalists. Armenia is not in crisis and is instead going through a “gradual development of democracy” thanks to political reforms implemented by the Sarkisian administration, he added.
Pashinian spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service after attending a meeting of the HAK’s decision-making Political Council for the first time. The outspoken editor of the “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily said he fully supports the HAK’s strategy of political struggle, which has been rather cautious since the 2008 unrest. He insisted that the opposition alliance remains committed to the idea of democratic “revolution” in Armenia.