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Armenian Opposition Leader: There Must 'Never Be' Political Prisoners

Armenian opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrossian
HRAZDAN/YEREVAN -- Former Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossian says Armenians will no longer be imprisoned for their political activities, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

"We must ensure that whenever someone thinks about throwing a person in jail for their political views and activities he is damned. There will never again be any political prisoners in Armenia," Ter-Petrossian said in a short speech to supporters in the town of Hrazdan on May 30.

Several hundred people gathered in Hrazdan to greet Sasun Mikaelian, a former local parliamentarian released from prison earlier that day. Mikaelian and another opposition figure, Nikol Pashinian, were set free under a general amnesty approved by parliament.

Mikaelian and Pashinian were jailed in connection with the March 2008 violence in Yerevan when police sought to disperse Ter-Petrossian supporters protesting his alleged defeat in the February 19 presidential ballot. Both men reaffirmed on May 27 their intention to campaign for the ouster of Armenia's current leadership, which Mikaelian labeled a "gang."

Pashinian expressed support for the demand by Ter-Petrossian's opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) for fresh presidential and parliamentary elections. In an interview with RFE/RL on May 31, Pashinian again claimed that early elections are inevitable.

"I believe that at a certain point the authorities, despite being detached from reality, will regain their sense of reality under the influence of external and internal factors," he said.

Armenian authorities, however, have repeatedly ruled out the possibility of snap polls.

"There are neither political nor legal grounds to hold preterm elections in our country," Eduard Sharmazanov, the spokesman for President Serzh Sarkisian's Republican Party of Armenia, reiterated on May 30.

"Preterm elections take place when there is a political crisis in the country," Sharmazanov told journalists. He said Armenia is not in a crisis and is going through a "gradual development of democracy" thanks to political reforms implemented by the Sarkisian administration.

Pashinian, editor of the opposition daily "Haykakan zhamanak," spoke to RFE/RL after attending a meeting of HAK's decision-making political council for the first time.

He said he fully supports the HAK's strategy of political struggle, and insisted that the opposition alliance remains committed to the idea of democratic "revolution" in Armenia.

In December 1994, then-President Ter-Petrossian had some 30 members of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation -- Dashnaktsutyun arrested on vague, unspecified terrorism charges that were never proven. Some were released only after Ter-Petrossian's ouster in February 1998.