By Karine Kalantarian
Ignoring calls from Armenia’s human rights ombudsman, prison officials and international watchdogs, Armenian authorities on Friday again refused to parole the editor of an opposition newspaper who was imprisoned for draft evasion two years ago.
Arman Babajanian, who founded and edited the “Zhamanak Yerevan” newspaper, was arrested in June 2006 and subsequently sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison for forging documents to evade military service. While pleading guilty to the accusations, Babajanian says that his political beliefs were key factor behind his imprisonment.
Under Armenian law, convicts that have served at least one third of their prison sentences can ask a special commission appointed by the president of the republic to release them on parole. Babajanian became eligible for parole in August last year and immediately appealed to the commission. The latter rejected the appeal even though it was seconded by the administration of Yerevan’s Nubarashen prison.
The authorities came under renewed pressure to free Babajanian as he served two years, the length of compulsory military service in Armenia, late last month. The editors of about a dozen local newspapers, most of them critical of the government, called for his early release in a joint statement.
Human Rights Watch added its voice to those calls in an open letter to Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian and Justice Minister Gevorg Danielian on July 3. Also advocating Babajanian’s release were Ombudsman Armen Harutiunian and the administration of a Yerevan prison hospital where the 32-year-old editor has been kept in the past year.
Nonetheless, the parole commission, dominated by senior law-enforcement officials, rejected Babajanian’s petition. By law it is not obliged to explain its decisions.
“We will challenge this decision in court,” said Zaruhi Postanjian, a lawyer and opposition parliamentarian campaigning for Babajanian’s release.