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Ombudsman Says Armenia Amnesty Applies To Jailed Journalist

Nikol Pashinian makes the victory sign as he is taken to court on July 2, 2009.

Nikol Pashinian makes the victory sign as he is taken to court on July 2, 2009.

Armenia's human rights ombudsman says jailed opposition journalist Nikol Pashinian should have his prison sentence cut by half in line with the amnesty declared by the parliament last year, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Ombudsman Armen Harutiunian told RFE/RL on February 23 that he hopes the court will apply the amnesty to Pashinian in the event that it upholds his guilty verdict, which is under appeal. He said "the amnesty bill does apply [to Pashinian] because it has do with [the postelection antigovernment protests of] March 1."

Harutiunian's office set up a special working group earlier this month to review Pashinian's case, the Caucasus Knot news agency reported on February 10.

The Justice Ministry has so far reserved judgment on the matter, saying that judicial proceedings in the Pashinian case have not been completed.

The amnesty bill passed by the National Assembly in June mandated the immediate release of all opposition figures who were arrested following the March 2008 unrest in Yerevan and subsequently sentenced to up to five years in prison.

The bill also said that other opposition members who had been given longer sentences can be freed after serving half their sentences.

Pashinian was given a seven-year jail term last month for his alleged role in deadly clashes between opposition protesters and security forces during the postelection protests.

The Yerevan court that handed down the controversial ruling said nothing about the amnesty's applicability to Pashinian, the outspoken editor of the opposition daily "Haykakan zhamanak." His lawyers believe he does qualify for early release under the amnesty.

However, they insist at the same time that Pashinian is innocent and should not have been imprisoned in the first place. The lawyers last week formally asked the appeals court to clear their client of organizing the 2008 "mass disturbances" that left 10 people dead and more than 200 others injured.