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Jailed Armenian Opposition Activist Remains Defiant

Nikol Pashinian gestures to supporters during his court appearance in March.
Nikol Pashinian gestures to supporters during his court appearance in March.
YEREVAN -- An Armenian opposition activist and newspaper editor jailed for his role in the 2008 postelection unrest says he will not ask authorities for a pardon, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Nikol Pashinian told RFE/RL by telephone on July 15 that he feels "absolutely free" at the Kosh prison, 30 kilometers west of Yerevan.

Pashinian is serving a 3 1/2 year sentence for helping to organize the mass protests in Yerevan in March 2008 that led to 10 people being killed and more than 200 others injured.

Pashinian said, "It may sound weird, but I feel great, I am in excellent health, and everything is alright."

Under Armenian law, President Serzh Sarkisian can pardon and set the oppositionist free if he receives a written request from him.

"Such talk is simply ridiculous," Pashinian told RFE/RL. "Only Serzh Sarkisian can apply for a pardon, to the people of the Republic of Armenia. Only [his predecessor] Robert Kocharian can apply for a pardon. Only the oligarchs can apply for a pardon. I would advise them to think about that."

Pashinian, 34, was one of the most influential speakers at the 2008 postelection rallies. He claims that he and more than a dozen other jailed loyalists to former President Levon Ter-Petrossian 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. "Today our being in prison is not so much a problem for us as for the authorities."

Pashinian said he is still able to closely monitor political developments in the country and write articles for "Haykakan zhamanak" on an almost daily basis, despite having his laptop computer confiscated by prison authorities a month ago for "illegally accessing" 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 in Strasbourg.

Pashinian was among several prominent opposition figures who went into hiding following a harsh government crackdown on Ter-Petrossian supporters who demanded a rerun of the disputed 2008 presidential election.

He surrendered to law-enforcement authorities in July 2009.

Pashinian and Ter-Petrossian's Armenian National Congress (HAK) regard the case against him to be politically motivated.

His conviction was upheld by two appeals courts earlier this year. But they also ruled that the chief editor of the "Haykakan zhamanak" daily newspaper will serve only about half of the controversial sentence, in accordance with a general amnesty declared by authorities last year.