By Karine Kalantarian
The editor of an Armenian pro-opposition newspaper serving a prison sentence for draft evasion said on Thursday he will ask the authorities to release him on parole and hopes that the request will be granted.
Under Armenian law, convicts that have served at least one third of their prison sentences can appeal to a special commission appointed by the president of the republic to allow their pre-term release.
Arman Babajanian, who founded and ran the “Zhamanak Yerevan” newspaper, was arrested in June last year and subsequently sentenced to four years’ in prison for illegally dodging compulsory military service. The sentence was shortened by six months on appeal last January, meaning that Babajanian will become eligible for parole in late August.
In an interview with RFE/RL given in his Yerevan prison, Babajanian said he will file a relevant request to the commission. “My hopes for freedom are linked to pre-term release,” he said. But he added that even if he is granted parole he will seek full acquittal by the European Court for Human Rights.
Babajanian’s lawyers appealed to the Strasbourg-based court last month after exhausting all possibilities of legal action in Armenia.
Still, the 31-year-old believes that his chances of winning the case are slim. “I don’t have great hopes that the European court will order my release,” he said.
During his trial, Babajanian admitted resorting to fraud after failing to extend the deferment of his military service and moving to the United States in 1998. But he insisted on Thursday that he would not have been prosecuted and jailed had his paper not been highly critical of the Armenian government. Calling himself a political prisoner, he claimed that the authorities are using his case to try to discourage challenges against their rule.
Babajanian and his supporters, among them some local media associations and human rights groups, have pointed to the fact that individuals convicted of draft dodging in Armenia are usually jailed for up to three years. They also complain that the authorities have ignored his request to be granted amnesty for a hefty amount of cash.
The practice is regulated by a special law passed by parliament two years ago. More than two thousand draft dodgers have since been granted amnesty for cash.