By Karine Kalantarian
Armenian authorities on Friday again refused to set free the editor of a pro-opposition newspaper imprisoned for draft evasion, ignoring petitions from his prison administration and the country’s human rights ombudsman.
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 release on parole.
Arman Babajanian, who founded and ran the “Zhamanak Yerevan” newspaper, was arrested in June 2006 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, making Babajanian eligible for parole in August.
His first parole request, seconded by the administration of Yerevan’s Nubarashen prison, was rejected by the commission at that time. The 32-year-old editor protested against the rebuff with a brief hunger strike that appeared to have contributed to his worsening health condition. He has been kept in a prison hospital since then.
The hospital administration backed Babajanian’s second parole request submitted this month, saying that he has behaved well in the institution and is suffering from cardiac problems. Ombudsman Armen Harutiunian as well as the opposition Zharangutyun party also called for his release in a separate letter to the commission.
However, the body, dominated by senior law-enforcement officials, rejected the plea at a meeting held behind the closed doors. It issued no official explanation for the move.
“It would be right if Arman Babajanian was set free,” Harutiunian told RFE/RL after the commission meeting. “He has earned that right with his behavior.”
Zharangutyun, for its part, issued a statement condemning the commission’s decision. The statement said the Armenian authorities are keeping Babajanian in jail because they are “terrified of dissent and real democracy.”
Hovannes Hunanian, a deputy chief of the Armenian police, denied recently any political motives behind the authorities’ apparent desire to see Babajanian fully serve his jail term. He argued that no individual jailed for draft evasion has ever been granted parole in Armenia in view of the seriousness of the crime.
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 insists that he would not have been prosecuted and jailed had his paper not been highly critical of the Armenian government. In an interview with RFE/RL given at Nubarashen earlier this year, he described himself as a political prisoner and claimed that the authorities are using his case to stifle dissent.
(Photolur photo: Arman Babajanian.)