By Emil Danielyan
Armenia’s leading newspapers, media associations and human rights groups expressed serious concern on Wednesday about the arrest of the editor of an independent newspaper critical of the government and said he must be set free pending trial.
In a joint statement published by their papers, the editors of “Azg,” “Aravot,” “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun,” “168 Zham,” “Iravunk,” “Haykakan Zhamanak,” and “Taregir” said they have reason to believe that the case against Arman Babajanian of “Zhamanak Yerevan” is politically motivated.
Babajanian, 30, was detained in his office June 26 and promptly charged with forging personal documents to avoid compulsory military service in 2002. Prosecutors investigating the case say he confessed to the charges before being remanded in a two-month pre-trial custody by a court in Yerevan.
In a statement issued from his prison cell on Friday, Babajanian presented himself as a victim of “political persecution” ordered by the “illegal regime” governing Armenia. However, he did not say whether he indeed pleaded guilty to the charges or thinks they are unfounded.
Babajanian’s colleagues demanded that he at least be released from pre-trial detention. They said the prosecutors’ refusal to do so suggests that “the main target of this ‘show’ is not military draft dodgers but the heads of media not controlled by the authorities.”
The leaders of six non-governmental organizations involved in human rights and press freedom advocacy expressed similar concerns in a separate statement which described Babajanian’s arrest as a form of government “pressure on an independent media outlet.” “We are urging [the prosecutors] to change the coercive measure, especially considering the fact that Arman Babajanian has already demonstrated his readiness to cooperate with the investigating body and has no intention to obstruct the investigation,” they said.
A spokeswoman for the Prosecutor-General’s Office argued earlier that individuals accused of draft in Armenia are usually kept in custody before trial.