More Oppositionists Set Free in Amnesty

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Four more opposition members, including former Deputy Prosecutor-General Gagik Jahangirian, were released from prison on Tuesday in accordance with a general amnesty declared by the Armenian authorities.

Jahangirian was greeted by dozens of relatives, friends and opposition activists as he walked out of a maximum security prison in central Yerevan. He was serving a three-year prison sentence given for his alleged resistance to police officers that arrested him 16 months ago.

he was sacked and arrested the day after delivering a passionate speech at an opposition rally in Yerevan in which he accused the Armenian authorities of rigging the February 2008 presidential election and described opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian as its rightful winner.

The once powerful prosecutor struck a defiant note and pledged to remain a “rank-and-file soldier” of Ter-Petrosian’s opposition movement. “I wish perseverance, strong will and courage to all of our comrades remaining behind bars,” he told journalists. “I promise that we will get them out of prison soon.”

Later in the day, dozens of opposition supporters gathered outside a prison in Artik, northwestern Armenia in heavy rain to welcome another prominent opposition figure, Petros Makeyan of the small Democratic Fatherland Party. Makeyan was arrested shortly after the February 2008 election and subsequently sentenced to three years in prison for “obstructing the work” of an election commission in the country’s second city of Gyumri.

Like Jahangirian, Makeyan downplayed President Serzh Sarkisian’s decision to initiate the amnesty, saying that it was the result of pressure from the Armenian opposition and the international community. “It’s Serzh [Sarkisian] who needs an amnesty,” he sneered.

Makeyan also stressed the fact that more than a dozen oppositionists are likely to remain in jail. “I think we must very quickly continue our fight to not only free our hostage comrades but also free our people of this gang,” he said.

One of those comrades, Harutiun Urutian, remains locked in the Artik prison. Urutian was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for allegedly assaulting an election official in Maralik, a small town near Gyumri. It was the harshest election-related punishment in Armenia’s history.

By comparison, three government loyalists convicted of vote rigging in the recent municipal elections in Yerevan were given three-year jail terms. One of them, who managed an election commission, walked free along with 15 oppositionists granted amnesty on Monday. The two others are due to be freed later this week.

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