Pashinian announced his intention to run for parliament late last month shortly after going on trial on charges of organizing the March 1, 2008 post-election clashes that left 10 people dead and more than 200 others injured. He had surrendered to the police in July after spending 16 months on the run.
Under Armenian law, only those citizens who have permanently resided in the country for at least five years preceding an election can run for the National Assembly. Their residency has to be certified, in writing, by the police Department of Passports and Visas (OVIR). The OVIR branch in Pashinian’s native town of Ijevan refused to provide such a document earlier this month, saying that the outspoken editor of the “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily was not in Armenia from February 2008 through July 2009.
Pashinian appealed against the decision in the Administrative Court, challenging the police to prove that he was not in the country. His lawyers argued during court hearings that the oppositionist was never charged with illegally crossing the country’s borders.
Police representatives, for their part, pointed to a series of lengthy newspaper articles in which Pashinian claimed to have fled Armenia and circled the world with a fake Serbian passport. Pashinian told the court on Wednesday that the detailed accounts of his purported adventures abroad were a piece of literary fiction.
The court ruled on Friday that the OVIR failed to prove Pashinian’s absence and should therefore certify his five-year residency with a letter to the Central Election Commission (CEC). The presiding judge, Artsrun Mirzoyan, said the ruling is not subject to appeal.
Lusine Sahakian, one of Pashinian’s lawyers, said she was somewhat surprised by the verdict given the fact that Armenian courts rarely make decisions going against government wishes. “To be honest, I have long ceased to expect legitimate verdicts in the Republic of Armenia,” she told RFE/RL.
“The other side committed so many and so obvious violations that I can’t imagine how the court would substantiate a rejection of our lawsuit,” said Vahe Hovsepian, another lawyer.
Meanwhile, Colonel Hovannes Tamamian, chief of the police’s Directorate General of Criminal Investigations, told journalists later in the day that law-enforcement authorities do have “reliable operational information” about Pashinian’s illegal flight from the country.
When asked why the police did not add a corresponding accusation to the criminal case against Pashinian, Tamamian said, “A case will probably be opened if we substantiate [our claims,] but, I repeat, we have simply provided operational information. In case of clear evidence, we will substantiate [that information] and apply the [relevant Criminal Code] article.”
The January 10 by-election will take place in a Yerevan constituency that was until recently represented in the National Assembly by Khachatur Sukiasian, another prominent member of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK). Sukiasian resigned his parliament seat in October in protest against the parliament majority’s March 2008 decision to lift his and his opposition colleagues’ immunity from prosecution.
A total of five individuals intend to take part in the election. One of them, former Transport Minister Eduard Madatian, also failed to get an OVIR clearance this month. The police service pointed to the fact that Madatian fled Armenia in late 2004 to avoid prosecution for allegedly masterminding what the authorities said was a failed attempt on the life of then President Robert Kocharian and other top officials.
Madatian returned home in August 2008 after the criminal case was dropped for still unknown reasons. Some Armenian newspapers claimed before the OVIR refusal that he enjoys the tacit backing of President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). The HHK has not officially nominated or endorsed any candidate in the electoral district, however.