By Karine Kalantarian
The head of a state commission empowered to parole convicts in Armenia on Friday flatly denied any political motives behind its refusal to free Arman Babajanian, the imprisoned editor of a pro-opposition newspaper.
Hovannes Hunanian, who is also deputy chief of the Armenian police, argued that the commission has consistently blocked an early release from prison of all individuals convicted of draft evasion ever since it began its work in September last year.
Babajanian was arrested in June 2006 and subsequently sentenced to three and a half years in prison for illegally avoiding compulsory military service. Last month, he served one third of the sentence and, in accordance with Armenian law, became eligible for parole.
In an interview with RFE/RL on Wednesday, Babajanian claimed that the commission rejected his parole appeal at the behest of President Robert Kocharian.
Hunanian dismissed the claim. “The commission has operated since September and during all this time it has considered dozens of cases of draft evasion applying for parole,” he told a news conference. “None of them has been set free by the commission.”
“So I think Arman Babajanian should not have been an exception to that rule,” he said.
The police general revealed that not all members of the body opposed Babajanian’s pre-term release. “Members of the commission disagreed on whether or not he should be freed,” he said. But most of them, he added, believe that draft evasion is a crime “dangerous for the public.”
Babajanian, meanwhile, has asked a Yerevan court to overturn the parole rejection. He says Hunanian’s commission should not have decided his fate in the first place because it was formed by Kocharian after his arrest.
(Photolur photo: Hovannes Hunanian.)