Armenia’s leading press freedom groups and two dozen media outlets have called for the release of Nikol Pashinian, an outspoken newspaper prosecuted for his role in last year’s post-election unrest.
In a joint statement published by Pashinian’s “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily on Tuesday, they said they are ready to offer formal guarantees that he will not again go into hiding ahead of his upcoming trial on charges of organizing the March 2008 deadly violence in Yerevan.
After spending 16 months on the run, Pashinian surrendered to the police last month in the hope of qualifying for a general amnesty declared by the authorities in June. Under the terms of the amnesty, he will have to be set free if found guilty and sentenced to up to five years in prison.
The statement, which was also signed by some 60 intellectuals and public figures, criticized as “discriminatory” the law-enforcement authorities’ decision to put him under pre-trial arrest. It said the 34-year-old editor can be tried while being free.
“We are ready to act as guarantors on that issue in a manner defined by law,” the statement said. Pashinian’s release from pre-trial detention would be an act of “respect for free speech in general and representatives of mass media and political opponents in particular,” it added.
Pashinian was one of the most popular speakers at massive demonstrations staged by opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian following the disputed February 2008 presidential election. He took the center stage in the opposition campaign on March 1, 2008 when thousands of opposition supporters barricaded themselves in central Yerevan hours after the break-up of Ter-Petrosian’s non-stop rallies in the city’s Liberty Square.
Ten people were killed and more than 200 others wounded in ensuing clashes between protesters and security forces, which led the outgoing President Robert Kocharian to declare a state of emergency and order mass arrests of opposition members. Pashinian was among several senior opposition figures who went underground and avoided arrest. He insists that the charges leveled against him are politically motivated.