Jailed Editor ‘Suspends’ Hunger Strike

JAILED EDITOR ‘SUSPENDS’ HUNGER STRIKE
By Ruzanna Stepanian

Radio Liberty, Czech Rep.
July 23 2007

The editor of an Armenian pro-opposition newspaper serving a prison
sentence for draft evasion has suspended a hunger strike which he
began last Friday after being denied an early release from jail,
his lawyer said on Monday.

Arman Babajanian of the newspaper "Zhamanak Yerevan" refused food in
protest against a state commission’s refusal on Thursday to set him
free on parole.

Under Armenian law, convicts who have displayed good behavior and
served at least one third of their prison sentences are eligible for
parole. The commission appointed by the president of the republic
has the exclusive authority to approve or reject relevant requests
from them.

Babajanian’s petition was rejected despite being seconded by the
administration of Yerevan’s Nubarashen prison where he is being kept.

The 31-year-old editor went on a hunger strike, demanding an official
explanation for what he considers an unjust and illegal decision.

According to his defense attorney Nikolay Baghdasarian, Babajanian
agreed to "suspend" the protest on Saturday after being visited by the
Nubarashen chief, head of a Justice Ministry department overseeing
the Armenian prison as well as human rights activists. He said the
prison chief promised that his client’s "legitimate demands" will be
met within a week.

"I don’t exclude that he will be granted parole," Baghdasarian told
RFE/RL. "But I don’t know yet what exactly they agreed on."

The lawyer also said that Babajanian had a stroke recently and remains
in poor health. "Arman will wait for one week before deciding what
to do next," he said.

Babajanian 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.

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 a recent interview with RFE/RL given at the
Nubarashen jail, he described himself as a political prisoner and
claimed that the authorities are using his case to stifle dissent.

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