YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Nikol Pashinian, an outspoken newspaper editor who played a major part in last year’s post-election opposition protests in Yerevan, said on Wednesday that he has decided to surrender to Armenian law-enforcement authorities after spending almost 16 months on the run.
Pashinian, 34, was one of the main and most popular speakers at the massive demonstrations staged by opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian following the disputed February 2008 presidential election. He took the center stage in the opposition campaign on March 1, 2008 when thousands of opposition supporters barricaded themselves in central Yerevan hours after the harsh break-up of Ter-Petrosian’s non-stop rallies in the city’s Liberty Square.
Ten people were killed and more than 200 others wounded in ensuing clashes between protesters and security forces, which led the outgoing President Robert Kocharian to declare a state of emergency and order mass arrests of opposition members. Pashinian was among several senior opposition figures who went underground and avoided arrest. All but two of them have come out of hiding since then.
In articles published by his “Haykakan Zhamanak” newspaper on a virtually daily basis, Pashinian has claimed to have traveled around the world with a fake foreign passport before finding refuge in an undisclosed location in Armenia this winter. Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress used his videotaped messages containing trademark harsh attacks on the government during its recent municipal election campaign in Yerevan.
In a written statement posted on his website, Pashinian said he has decided to come out of hiding “within the next month” after this week’s release of two dozen fellow oppositionists who were imprisoned on charges mainly stemming from the March 2008 violence. They were set free as part of a general amnesty declared by the Armenian authorities.
“I conclude with pride that it is now my turn to become a political prisoner,” read Pashinian’s statement. “My decision to move from underground to prison is also driven by a concern about effective political struggle.”
But under an amnesty bill passed by the Armenian parliament last Friday, Pashinian and the other fugitive oppositionist, parliament deputy Khachatur Sukiasian, will be eligible for clemency if they turn themselves in by July 31. The two men will have to be set free if they are sentenced to up to five years in prison.
Pashinian was charged, in absentia, with organizing unsanctioned rallies and “mass riots” and defying “representatives of the state authority.” The charges carry between four and ten years’ imprisonment.
A senior law-enforcement source, who asked not to be identified, told RFE/RL that the firebrand activist will be put under pre-trial arrest if he stops hiding.