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WPFC calls for release of leading editor

(WPFC/IFEX) - The World Press Freedom Committee wrote a letter to the president of Armenia urging him to use his power and influence to gain the release of the editor-in-chief of the country's largest newspaper:

Oct. 2, 2009

His Excellency Serzh Sargsyan
President of the Republic of Armenia
26 Marshal Baghramian Ave.
Yerevan 0077
Republic of Armenia

Your Excellency:

The World Press Freedom Committee - an organization representing 44 press freedom groups from throughout the world - expresses its profound concern about the fate of Nicol Pashinyan, editor-in-chief of the country's leading newspaper, Haykakan Zhamanak (Armenian Times), who was arrested on July 1 after he voluntarily came out of hiding.

Mr. Pashinyan, whose trial will start soon, is accused of very serious crimes, including inciting mass disorder and assaulting a public official. But the truth is he was just exercising his right to free expression during a peaceful political rally on March 1, 2008, which ended up being brutally repressed by riot police. The bloody incident left ten people dead.

A 2008 US State Department report on human rights concluded that, "some of the deaths may have occurred from purposeful arbitrary killing, misuse of crowd control equipment [. . .] or some combination of these factors." The report goes on to conclude that no investigations were conducted into the behavior of the security forces during the incident.

Mr. Pashinyan, whose writings had been very critical of the government, went into hiding after that fateful day and continued writing for his newspaper. After the Armenian Parliament passed a resolution of amnesty for all those implicated in the March 1 incident, he decided to come of out of hiding only to be immediately arrested and taken to a former KGB prison.

The arrest took place in blatant defiance of the amnesty resolution and of a resolution by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), which reminded the Armenian authorities that "the amnesty will also apply to those persons charged in relation to the events of 1 and 2 March 2008." The PACE resolution also urges the Armenian authorities to allow those charged in relation with that incident to remain free during the duration of their legal proceedings.

Arresting a journalist because of his professional activity is a serious attack not only on his fundamental human rights, including press freedom, but also on his audience, who thus is deprived of important information about issues of public interest. By keeping him in prison, you also hold his audience hostage to an arbitrary decision that attempts against fundamental democratic principles.

The harassment and illegal detention of members of the media represent grave violations of fundamental human rights postulates enshrined not only in the Armenian Constitution but also in international covenants, such as the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which your country is signatory.

Article 19 of the Declaration states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of expression and opinion; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers

Your Excellency, we urge you to exercise your presidential power and influence to grant the immediate release of Mr. Pashinyan from prison thus showing the international community your government does respect freedom of the press and due process.

Respectfully:
Richard Winfield
Chairman
World Press Freedom Committee

Javier Sierra
Projects Director
World Press Freedom Committee


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His Excellency Serzh Sargsyan
President of the Republic of Armenia
26 Marshal Baghramian Ave.
Yerevan 0077
Republic of Armenia
[email protected]
fax: +37410 522364

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