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Jailed Editor Threatens Hunger Strike


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.

Arman Babajanian, the jailed newspaper editor diagnosed with a brain tumor, threatened on Monday to go on a hunger strike to accelerate his release from prison recommended by doctors.

Babajanian, whose jail sentence ends on September 16, was moved to a prison hospital in Yerevan last month after complaining of severe headaches and vision problems. Doctors found a tumor in his brain during a medical examination.

The prison hospital administration accepted on Friday that he needs urgent treatment in a civilian hospital and asked a state commission empowered to grant parole to convicts to ensure Babajanian’s early release. It remains unclear when the commission will meet to consider the request. Its chairman and the deputy chief of the Armenian police, Armen Yeritsian, could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Zaruhi Postanjian, an opposition parliamentarian concerned about the editor’s fate, cited Justice Minister Gevorg Danielian as telling her that the commission will meet “in the coming days.” “The phrase ‘in the coming days’ could mean about ten days,” she told RFE/RL.

Postanjian described Babajanian’s condition as “absolutely worrisome” and said the authorities’ failure so far to grant him parole amounts to “torture.” “So I can say that the Armenian authorities are not making every effort to set him free,” she said.

Speaking to RFE/RL by phone, Babajanian said that his health condition is continuing to deteriorate and that the only treatment he is getting in the prison hospital is pain-killer drugs. He said he will go on a hunger strike if the authorities keep delaying his release. He also made clear that he will not engage in any “political haggling” with the authorities to regain freedom.

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.

Two of those watchdogs expressed serious concern about his condition last week. “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,” the Paris-based group Reporters Sans Frontiers said in a statement on Friday.

And on Wednesday, a top representative of Human Rights Watch sent an open letter to Danielian urging the Armenian government to provide Babajanian with “the highest possible standard of treatment.”

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