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Demonstrators hold up pictures of jailed opposition members Aram Bareghamian (right) and Sasun Mikaelian at a rally on March 1.
YEREVAN -- Another Armenian opposition figure who was controversially arrested and imprisoned following the 2008 disputed presidential election has been paroled by a Yerevan court, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Aram Bareghamian, who headed a regional branch of a major political party aligned with the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), was freed one month after a prison near the central town of Sevan recommended his early release.

The recommendation was seconded later in April by a state commission dealing with parole applications.

Bareghamian was among more than 100 loyalists of HAK leader Levon Ter-Petrossian who were arrested in the wake of the March 2008 unrest in Yerevan. He was sentenced to six years in prison for allegedly assaulting a police officer.

The prison sentence was based on the policeman's testimony. Both Bareghamian and the HAK leadership consider the case politically motivated.

"Even the prison inmates recognized me as a political prisoner," Bareghamian told RFE/RL after the court announced its decision on May 2. "I was brought here by illegitimate authorities because of my political views."

He said he would now strive for his acquittal through other courts and seek the punishment of police who, he said, gave "false testimony" against him. He also pledged to continue to fight for "regime change."

Bareghamian's release reduced to five the number of opposition activists jailed in connection with the controversial 2008 election. President Serzh Sarkisian indicated last week that they will all be freed soon as part of his overtures to the Ter-Petrossian-led opposition.

The HAK leader stressed the importance of this and other government concessions as he addressed thousands of supporters at a rally in downtown Yerevan on April 28.

He said the HAK was ready to start a dialogue with the Armenian authorities, instead of seeking another "physical confrontation" with them.

Ter-Petrossian predicted that all "political prisoners" would be set free by May 28, the anniversary of Armenia's independence in 1918.

On April 29, parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian and other leaders of the pro-government majority in parliament asked Sarkisian to consider pardoning Sasun Mikaelian, one of the most prominent opposition activists remaining in jail and, like Sarkisian, a veteran of the Nagorno-Karabakh war.

"His health condition is such that it allows for his early release," Galust Sahakian, the parliamentary leader of Sarkisian's Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), told RFE/RL over the weekend. "I think the president will respond to our appeal."

Presidential press secretary Armen Arzumanian told RFE/RL the response would come "in due course." He refused further comment.

Ter-Petrossian spokesman Arman Musinian also declined to comment.
Sasun Mikaelian is serving an eight-year jail term
YEREVAN -- Armenian authorities have signaled their intention to free former parliament deputy Sasun Mikaelian, one of the most prominent opposition figures controversially imprisoned in 2008, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian and other leaders of the pro-government majority in parliament asked President Serzh Sarkisian to consider pardoning Mikaelian. In a written appeal issued by his press office, Abrahamian said the deputies are concerned about the poor health of "our former colleague."

The move came two days after Sarkisian hinted at the impending release of six members of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) who are still in jail. HAK leader Levon Ter-Petrossian predicted on April 28 that the six will be set free by May 28.

Like several other prominent Ter-Petrossian allies, Mikaelian was arrested following the March 2008 violence in Yerevan which was sparked by a disputed presidential election.

In June 2009, they were controversially convicted of organizing what the authorities call "mass disturbances" that left 10 people dead and more than 200 others injured.

Mikaelian, who is also a prominent veteran of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, was also found guilty of illegal arms possession. The resulting eight-year prison sentence given by a Yerevan court disqualified him from a 2009 general amnesty.

The authorities have so far been reluctant to free the 53-year-old oppositionist despite a serious deterioration of his health. Mikaelian has undergone two surgeries since 2008 and is being kept in a prison hospital.

Earlier this month, two senior representatives of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) said the continuing imprisonment of Mikaelian and another influential opposition figure, Nikol Pashinian, is the "main impediment for the normalization of the political situation" in Armenia.

They complained that Armenian authorities are "not willing to demonstrate any leniency towards these two persons."

The HAK regards Mikaelian, Pashinian, and the other jailed opposition activists as political prisoners.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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