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Armenian Officials Move To Free Jailed Opposition Figure

Sasun Mikaelian is serving an eight-year jail term
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.