YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Nikol Pashinian, a fugitive opposition figure and newspaper editor, spoke to journalists in Yerevan moments before turning himself in to the Armenian police on Wednesday.
Pashinian, 34, was one of the most influential and passionate speakers at the anti-government protests staged by opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian. He and several other opposition figures went underground following the violent suppression of those protests on March 1-2, 2008. The authorities have tried unsuccessfully to track down and arrest them.
In a statement posted on his website last week, Pashinian said he has decided to come out of hiding and become a “political prisoner” after a general amnesty declared by the Armenian authorities on June 19. About 30 oppositionists jailed following the March 2008 unrest have been set free as a result.
“They will arrest me shortly and I will then be remanded in [pre-trial] custody,” Pashinian told journalists at the entrance to Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General. “They will then sentence me to as many years in prison as possible.”
“I will continue my struggle in prison,” he said before being escorted to the police department of Yerevan’s Kentron district. He was transferred to a maximum security prison, also located in the city center, later in the day.
Neither state prosecutors, nor the Armenian police issued any statements in connection with Pashinian’s surrender as of Wednesday evening. The young editor of the “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily has been wanted by them on charges of organizing unsanctioned rallies and “mass riots” and defying “representatives of the state authority.” The charges carry between four and ten years’ imprisonment.
Under an amnesty bill approved by parliament, only oppositionists sentenced to up to five years’ imprisonment are to be set free. The biggest worry of Pashinian’s friends and associates is that the firebrand activist, who has subjected the Armenian security apparatus to relentless criticism, will be ill-treated in custody. Some of them gathered outside the Kentron police headquarters in a show of solidarity with him.
“I am confident that with the help of ourselves and all those people who have stood by the detainees, the issues of Nikol’s liberation and restoration of justice will be solved soon,” said Vahagn Khachatrian, a former Yerevan mayor who himself spent several months in hiding last year.
“Nikol Pashinian has proved that there is no competent national security service and police in Armenia,” said David Matevosian, one of the opposition figures released from prison last week. “Common sense and the latest Council of Europe resolution suggest that the authorities are obliged to free Nikol.”