Nikol Pashinian, an outspoken opposition leader and newspaper editor, remained in defiant mood and categorically ruled out asking the Armenian authorities for pardon on Thursday.
In a phone interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Pashinian said he feels “absolutely free” at the Kosh prison 30 kilometers west of Yerevan, where he is serving a highly controversial sentence for his alleged role in the 2008 post-election unrest in the capital.
“It may sound weird, but I feel great, am in excellent health, and everything is alright,” he said. “To be honest, the notion that freedom is a spiritual category becomes more understandable here at the Kosh penitentiary institution.”
Pashinian was among several prominent opposition figures who went into hiding in March 2008 following a harsh government crackdown on supporters of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian demanding the re-run of a disputed presidential election. He surrendered to law-enforcement authorities in July 2009 and was subsequently sentenced to seven years in prison on charges of stirring up the March 2008 “mass disturbances” in Yerevan that left ten people dead.
The district court ruling, which Pashinian and Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) regard as politically motivated, was upheld by two appeals courts earlier this year. But they also ruled that the charismatic editor of the “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily will serve only about half of the controversial sentence in accordance with a general amnesty declared by the authorities last year.
Under Armenian law, President Serzh Sarkisian can pardon and set the oppositionist free if he receives a corresponding written request from him.
“Such talk is simply ridiculous,” Pashinian told RFE/RL. “Only Serzh Sarkisian can apply for pardon, to the people of the Republic of Armenia. Only [his predecessor] Robert Kocharian can apply for pardon. Only the oligarchs can apply for pardon. I would advise them to think about that.”
The 34-year-old editor, who was one of the most influential speakers at the 2008 post-election rallies, claimed that he and more than a dozen other Ter-Petrosian loyalists remaining in jail are “very effectively” fighting for regime change in Armenia from behind bars.
“Let nobody think that we are eager to get out of prison because we feel distressed,” he said. “While being in prison, I and my comrades are involved in a very intense struggle.”
“Today our being in prison is not so much a problem for us as for the authorities,” he added.
Pashinian is still able to closely monitor political developments in the country and write articles for “Haykakan Zhamanak” on a virtually daily basis despite having his laptop computer confiscated by the prison authorities a month ago. They claimed that he illegally gained access to the Internet.
Pashinian, who considers the confiscation illegal, complained that the lack of a computer complicates his communication with his defense lawyers, who are preparing to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights.