Jailed Editor Blames Kocharian For Parole Rejection

By Ruzanna Stepanian

Radio Liberty, Czech Rep.
Aug 1 2007

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.