Armenia: Opposition journalist trial reopens old wounds
|Publication Date||21 October 2009|
|Cite as||EurasiaNet, Armenia: Opposition journalist trial reopens old wounds, 21 October 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4b06755fc.html [accessed 16 September 2014]|
Marianna Grigoryan: 10/21/09
A freedom-of-expression controversy in Armenia is intensifying amid the opening of the trial of one of ex-president Levon Ter-Petrosian's most influential supporters, opposition journalist Nikol Pashinian.
Thirty-four-year-old Pashinian, the editor-in-chief of the daily Haykakan Zhamanak, is facing criminal charges for allegedly "organizing mass disorder" and sparking violence against the government during the March 2008 clashes between police and opposition protesters that left 10 dead.
After over a year in hiding, Pashinian turned himself into police in July under the terms of a presidential amnesty that led to the release of scores of imprisoned opposition activists. Fear that Pashinian would dodge his trial was the official reason for his arrest. The trial began on October 20.
Opposition activists outside the court in Yerevan's Shengavit District carried posters that said, "Armenian justice is on trial today." and "Nikol's trial is our common trial." A large police contingent was deployed in the vicinity of the court to prevent protesters from entering the building.
The trial's judge and setting are the same as for the so-called Case of Seven, the controversial trial of seven opposition leaders which international monitors argue has exposed gaping inadequacies in Armenia's judicial system. A defense petition that the presiding judge, Mnatsakan Martorisian, be dismissed for presumed bias against Pashinian was denied.
"I have no expectations for justice," defense attorney Lusine Sahakian commented to EurasiaNet. Sahakian described the defense's strategy as "to show ... what has happened." She did not elaborate.
The World Press Freedom Committee – an organization representing 44 press freedom groups from around the world – sent a protest letter on October 2 to President Serzh Sargsyan concerning the Pashinian case, seeking for the trial's adjournment.
Government supporters dispute the defense contention that authorities put Pashinian on trial in order to muzzle his journalistic voice. "I don't think these charges are much linked to freedom of speech and his work as a journalist," said MP Razmik Zohrabian, deputy head of the governing Republican Party of Armenia.
Zohrabian thinks that Pashinian's surrender to the authorities should be a mitigating factor in his case, but some human rights monitors worry that few such allowances will be granted the activist, whose firecracker speeches, reminiscent of Ter-Petrosian's own oratory during the late Soviet era, drew large crowds. Pashinian has continued to write from behind prison bars.
"The trial will take a long time since this is a political decision, and [the government's] political will should be demonstrated," said Arthur Sakunts, head of the Vanadzor office of the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly. Government representatives could not be reached for response.
Sakunts, like other human rights observers, believes that Pashinian's trial violates a 2009 resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) that called for prisoner amnesty. The presidential amnesty should have been applied to Pashinian as to other opposition activists, he contends.
"[T]he criminal prosecution against him is absurd. All this resembles a show. I guess this will go on for some time, perhaps until the next PACE session," Sakunts said.
In an October 19 statement, the Armenian National Congress, the political movement headed by ex-president Ter-Petrosian, echoed those sentiments, claiming that the charges against Pashinian are "absolutely groundless" and an attempt by the government "to conceal the crime organized on March 1 ."
Editor's Note: Marianna Grigoryan is a freelance reporter in Yerevan.