Dozens of pro-establishment scholars, writers and other intellectuals have expressed concern over the alleged mistreatment of opposition leader and newspaper editor Nikol Pashinian in prison and called for his immediate release.
Their unexpected appeals came as Pashinian was transferred to another Armenian jail on Wednesday amid opposition fears that the authorities will restrict his daily communication with the outside world.
In a joint statement, 34 members of Armenia’s National Academy Science said “it is unbefitting for Armenia to keep a journalist in jail and thus violate international norms and conventions.” They said the authorities will defuse “the internal political crisis” dating back to the February 2008 presidential election and improve Armenia’s international reputation if they free the outspoken editor of the opposition daily “Haykakan Zhamanak.”
A similar statement was issued on Tuesday by the pro-government chairmen of three Armenian organizations uniting writers, actors and architects. They likewise described as “unbefitting” Pashinian’s continued imprisonment on charges stemming from the March 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan.
Pashinian was one of the most influential speakers at massive anti-government rallies organized by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian before and after the disputed presidential ballot. He was sentenced earlier this year to seven years in prison for organizing vicious clashes between security forces and opposition protesters, which left ten people dead.
Pashinian will have to serve only half of the controversial sentence because of a general amnesty declared by the authorities last year. Both he and Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) consider the case politically motivated.
Pashinian was transferred from the Kosh prison near Yerevan to another penitentiary institution located outside the northwestern Armenian town of Artik. The prison chief, Vartan Sargsian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that the oppositionist will be kept there in a “stricter regime.”
An Armenian Justice Ministry department managing the national prisons attributed the relocation on Wednesday to Pashinian’s “numerous violations” of the prison regime and his “behavior causing conflicts with other inmates.” In a written statement, department spokesman Arsen Babayan said their relations deteriorated because of “a number of slanders.”
Pashinian was placed in solitary confinement at Kosh last month after claiming to have been assaulted by unknown men. The prison administration and the Justice Ministry denied the claims and said he himself wanted to change his prison cell for security reasons. Pashinian insisted, however, that he never made such a request.
His wife Anna Hakobian, who currently manages “Haykakan Zhamanak,” suggested that the authorities are keen to stop the oppositionist writing hard-hitting articles for the paper on a regular basis. In a Tuesday statement condemning the transfer, the HAK similarly claimed that the authorities want to “complicate his journalistic activity.”