By Ruzanna Stepanian
Arman Babajanian, the jailed editor of the pro-opposition newspaper “Zhamanak Yerevan,” claimed on Wednesday that President Robert Kocharian is personally responsible for his failure to secure an early release from prison.
Babajanian went on a brief hunger strike late last month in protest against a state commission’s rejection of his request to be set free on parole. Under Armenian law, he is eligible for parole, seeing as he has already served more than one third of a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence which he received for draft evasion.
The commission in question was formed by Kocharian in July 2006 and is headed by Hovannes Hunanian, deputy chief of the Armenian police. It gave no reason for its decision to keep the 31-year-old editor behind bars despite a positive recommendation from the administration of Yerevan’s Nubarashen prison.
“It is obvious that the decision was made as a result of a political order,” Babajanian told RFE/RL in a prison hospital where he was taken on Monday after complaining of high blood pressure and other health problems.
“Instructions on my case come directly from the presidential administration,” he said. “The president of the republic is consistently trying to avenge activities against these authorities which I began in Los Angeles in 2003 … continued in my country [in 2006.]”
“The decision not to grant me early release underscores the pettiness and weakness of these authorities,” he charged.
Babajanian was arrested and charged with forging documents to evade compulsory military service in June 2006, just weeks after returning to Armenia from the United States where had lived for the past eight years. During his subsequent trial he admitted resorting to fraud after failing to extend the deferment of his military service but said he did so after military authorities unjustly dismissed medical documents testifying to his poor health.
Babajanian and his newspaper staff have repeatedly condemned the case as an attempt to intimidate and muzzle a publication highly critical of Kocharian and his government. The Armenian authorities deny this, arguing that the editor’s guilt has been proven.
Local and foreign human rights groups point out, however, that draft dodgers in Armenia usually get shorter jail terms. The rejection of Babajanian’s parole application only added to the perceived political dimension of the case.
Babajanian said on Wednesday that the Kocharian-appointed commission must not have decided his fate in this first place because it was set up one month after his arrest. A Yerevan court is due to consider this month a relevant lawsuit filed by his lawyers. The latter also appealed earlier this year to the European Court of Human Rights to overturn their client’s conviction.