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Media Call for Release of Jailed Opposition Paper Editor


Armenia -- Arrested opposition leader Nikol Pashinian makes a victory sign as he is taken to a court in Yerevan on July 2, 2009.

The National Press Club (NPC) in Armenia on Tuesday issued a statement calling on the Armenian authorities to release an opposition daily editor who was jailed earlier this month in connection with last year’s post-election unrest shortly after turning himself in to law-enforcers.

Nikol Pashinian, 34-year-old editor-in-chief of “Haykakan Zhamanak”, was one of the most influential and passionate speakers at the anti-government protests staged by opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian in the wake of the disputed presidential election in February 2008. He and several other opposition figures went underground following the violent suppression of those protests on March 1-2, 2008. After 16 months of unsuccessful attempts by the authorities to track down and arrest him, Pashinian turned himself in following a general amnesty bill passed by the Armenian parliament that also applies to opposition supporters prosecuted over the post-election developments.

Authorities, however, refused to grant bail to Pashinian as he was remanded in pre-trial custody two days after emerging from hiding and surrendering to the Armenian police on July 1.

Armenia’s media organizations on Tuesday expressed their bewilderment over the detention of Pashinyan in the context of the government declarations that “the amnesty is a manifestation of goodwill and humanism.”

In urging Pashinian’s release, the NPC statement refers to the existing “public mistrust towards the legal processes involving March 1 cases, the need for mitigating public discontent and overcoming the consequences of the March 1 [political crisis], as well as commitments of the authorities in protecting human rights.” It also singles out Pashinian’s “role in the establishment of the Armenian press in the modern period.”

Pashinian is charged with organizing “mass disturbances” and “unsanctioned rallies” as well as defying “representatives of the state authority.” The charges carry between four and ten years’ imprisonment.

Under the general amnesty bill approved by parliament on June 19, only oppositionists sentenced to up to five years’ imprisonment are to be set free.

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