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Yerevan Under Pressure To Free Ailing Editor


Armenia -- Arman Babajanian, editor of the pro-opposition "Zhamanak" daily, on trial in 2006.

Armenia -- Arman Babajanian, editor of the pro-opposition "Zhamanak" daily, on trial in 2006.

Prison authorities in Armenia recommended on Friday the urgent release of Arman Babajanian, a jailed newspaper editor diagnosed with a brain tumor, amid mounting uproar from international civil rights groups concerned about his deteriorating condition.

Babajanian, whose jail sentence ends on September 16, was taken to a prison hospital last month after complaining of severe headaches and vision problems. Doctors found a tumor in his brain during a medical examination. Friends and supporters say he is in urgent need of treatment at a civilian hospital.

The Paris-based group Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF) expressed outrage at the Armenian authorities’ refusal so far to release the young editor of the pro-opposition “Zhamanak” newspaper on parole. “We are extremely shocked by the attitude of the authorities, who have turned a deaf ear to the appeals of doctors and human rights activists,” RSF said in a statement on Friday.

“Babajanian has nearly completed his sentence so we fail to understand why they insist on keeping him in prison,” added RSF. “His condition is serious and the tumor could leave him handicapped for life.”

On Wednesday, a top representative of Human Rights Watch sent an open letter to Justice Minister Gevorg Danielian urging the Armenian government to provide Babajanian with “the highest possible standard of treatment.” “We are very concerned about his health,” said Holly Cartner, head of the New York-based organization’s Europe and Central Asia division.

The prison hospital administration on Friday discussed the matter and decided to ask a state commission empowered to grant parole to convicts to ensure Babajanian’s early release. Speaking to RFE/RL by phone, the editor said the commission dominated by senior law-enforcement officials could meet later in the day.

But the office of state human rights ombudsman Armen Harutiunian, which has a representative in the commission, could not confirm the information. A spokesman for the office told RFE/RL that the body’s next regular meeting is scheduled for the second half of August. “We have no information yet about any extraordinary meetings of the commission,” Grigori Grigorian said.

Babajanian was arrested in June 2006 and subsequently sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison for forging documents to evade compulsory military service. The authorities have repeatedly refused to free him on parole despite appeals from domestic and international watchdogs, including RSF and HRW.

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