YEREVAN–The two most prominent members of the Armenian opposition remaining in prison–Sasun Mikaelian, a former parliament deputy, and Nikol Pashinian, editor of the “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily–were released on May 27, in accordance with a general amnesty declared by the Armenian authorities, reported RFE/RL.
The two men played a major role in the March 1, 2008 post-election demonstrations in Yerevan that were forcibly broken by security forces and left ten people dead.
Like many other associates of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian, both men went into hiding following the crackdown. Mikaelian was caught and arrested several days later, while Pashinian remained on the run until surrendering to law-enforcement bodies in July 2009.
“I will keep fighting,” Mikaelian told journalists outside a prison hospital in Yerevan where he has spent much of his time since March 2008. “Nothing has changed in my political views and attitudes,” he said.
Pashinian struck an even more defiant note as he emerged from a high-security prison near the northwestern Armenian town of Artik later, chanting “Struggle, struggle to the end,” Ter-Petrosian’s famous political slogan. “I can’t wait to take part in the [HAK’s] May 31 rally,” he told journalists.
The release of Pashinian, Mikaelian and a handful of other individuals regarded by the HAK as political prisoners has been one of the main opposition preconditions for starting a dialogue with Sarkisian. The authorities are thought to have accepted this demand through the amnesty.
The State Department welcomed the release of the prisoners. “The United States welcomes the prisoner amnesty granted by Armenian President Sargsian and declared by the Armenian Parliament, and is pleased to see the quick release of those detained in connection with the events of March 1, 2008. The United States is committed to supporting the Government of Armenia in taking steps to strengthen due process, ensure freedom of assembly and expression, and enable Armenia to become an open, democratic, and prosperous society,” read a statement issued by the State Department.