An Armenian court has opened hearings on an appeal by jailed opposition journalist Nikol Pashinian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.
Pashinian, 34, editor of the daily "Haykakan zhamanak," was sentenced in January to seven years in prison for his alleged role in the 2008 postelection violence in Yerevan. A Yerevan district court found him guilty of inciting "mass disturbances" that left 10 people dead and more than 200 others injured.
Pashinian and the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), of which is a prominent member, denounced the verdict as politically motivated. Pashinian's lawyers appealed it late last month, saying that their client is innocent and should be acquitted.
State prosecutors, who had demanded an eight-year jail term, filed a separate appeal. They want the Court of Appeals to overturn the lower court's decision to clear Pashinian of a separate accusation of assaulting a police officer during an October 2007 opposition demonstration in Yerevan.
The March 3 court proceedings began with the defense lawyers demanding the replacement of a panel of three judges presiding over the hearings. They said those judges have handed down "illegal" rulings in other cases stemming from the March 2008 unrest that followed the disputed presidential election. The court rejected that request.
Pashinian again insisted that the case against him is part of a broader campaign of "political persecution" of the Armenian opposition.
An amnesty bill passed by the Armenian parliament last June mandated the immediate release of all opposition figures arrested following the 2008 clashes in Yerevan and subsequently sentenced to up to five years in prison. The bill also stipulated that other oppositionists who received harsher punishment can be set free after serving only half of their jail sentences.
Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian acknowledged last week that Pashinian is eligible to have his sentence cut by half if he is not acquitted by the Court of Appeals or the higher Court of Cassation.