The court ruled at the same time that Pashinian will serve only about half of the controversial sentence in accordance with a general amnesty declared by the Armenian authorities last June.
A Yerevan court of first instance found him guilty on January 19 of stirring up the “mass disturbances” that left ten people dead and more than 200 others injured. Both Pashinian and state prosecutors, who had demanded an eight-year jail term for the outspoken oppositionist, appealed the verdict.
The Court of Appeals upheld the ruling, however, triggering “Nikol!” chants from dozens of opposition supporters present in the courtroom. “Keep your spirits high,” Pashinian shouted to them. “We will fight till the end and win.”
“This is a shameful judicial act,” one of his lawyers, Lusine Sahakian, told RFE/RL. “We have always said that we don’t want their amnesty because Nikol Pashinian did not commit a crime.” She said her client will now take his case to the higher Court of Cassation.
A senior member of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), with which Pashinian is affiliated, condemned the court hearings and the ruling as a “farce.” “Nikol Pashinian should have been acquitted,” said Gagik Jahangirian, a former prosecutor-general.
Jahangirian, who himself was arrested after the February 2008 presidential election and spent more than a year in jail, reiterated the HAK’s view that all of the court rulings stemming from the post-election unrest were politically motivated.
But Razmik Zohrabian, a deputy chairman of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), disagreed, describing the high court ruling as fair. “Justice has worked because amnesty has been applied to Nikol Pashinian,” he argued.
Zohrabian also said Pashinian may be set free soon if he asks President Serzh Sarkisian for a pardon. None of the prominent opposition figures jailed after the 2008 vote has exercised that option and the editor of the pro-opposition “Haykakan Zhamanak” is unlikely to be an exception, however.
Pashinian, 34, was one of the most popular and passionate speakers at the anti-government protests staged by the HAK’s top leader, Levon Ter-Petrosian, following the disputed ballot. He took the center stage in the 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.
The ensuing clashes between protesters and security forces 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 came out of hiding and was immediately placed under arrest in July 2009 following the declaration of the amnesty. Under the terms of the amnesty, the oppositionist would have walked free if had been sentenced to up to five years’ imprisonment.
Pashinian tried unsuccessfully to win a vacant seat in Armenia’s parliament in a by-election held in a Yerevan constituency on January 10. The HAK denounced the vote, won by a pro-government candidate, as fraudulent.