Armenian activist and editor attacked, placed in strict jail

New York, December 2, 2010–The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about reports that Nikol Pashinian, an opposition activist and editor-in-chief of the independent daily Haykakan Zhamanak, was beaten in custody and moved into solitary confinement.

On Tuesday, authorities moved Pashinian into the strict-regime Artik prison. Pashinian’s lawyer, Vakhe Grigorian, told CPJ that the move was in retaliation for editorials Pashinian wrote from prison and published in Haykakan Zhamanak. He wrote about alleged corruption in the Armenian penitentiary system, Grigorian told CPJ.

Before Pashinian was moved to Artik, he was serving a four-year prison term in Kosh prison outside of Yerevan, for allegedly organizing mass riots spurred by flawed February 2008 presidential elections in Armenia. According to Grigorian, prison authorities had repeatedly ordered Pashinian to stop writing, but he continued. Shortly before he was moved to Artik, Pashinian said, he was physically attacked in his cell and beaten by two masked men on November 11, the Armenian service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

“We are concerned about reports that Nikol Pashinian was abused in retaliation for his critical commentary on prison conditions, and we call on Armenian authorities to conduct an independent investigation into the matter,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We call on Armenian penitentiary service officials to guarantee Pashinian’s safety and to improve his prison conditions.”

Prison authorities denied the attack happened, and said that Pashinian’s medical exam had not revealed any signs of the alleged beating, local press reported. An independent exam was not conducted. Authorities announced today that Pashinian was transferred because he had allegedly violated unspecified prison rules at Kosh on multiple occasions, and because he had argued or fought with inmates, the independent Caucasus news website Kavkazsky Uzel reported.

Authorities arrested Pashinian in July 2009 and convicted him in January 2010 on the charges of organizing riots in March 2008 in the capital, Yerevan, local and international press reported. Seven people died and more than a hundred were wounded after the opposition protests against fraudulent presidential elections turned violent. Pashinian was sentenced initially to seven years in jail; the sentence was later reduced to four years, according to local press reports.