Babajanian, editor in chief of the independent daily “Zhamanak Yerevan,” has served more than two years of a three-and-a-half-year sentence. He was sentenced in 2006 on charges of evading compulsory military service. Babajanian had admitted that he falsified documents to avoid military service and says he subsequently paid the required fines.
Armenian journalists and editors condemned the decision, which was taken by a presidentially appointed commission of eight members representing, among other agencies, the police, the Justice Ministry, the National Security Service, the Lawyers Association, and the office of the Armenian ombudsman.
“I am very saddened that our colleague is not with us today, but I am hopeful that his suffering will end soon," Mesrop Movsesian, the chairman of the Internet magazine A1+, told RFE/RL's Armenian Service.
Many local and international human rights organizations believe Babajanian's sentence was unusually harsh. As the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) noted, Armenia's criminal code "does not specifically envision imprisonment for evading military service, although when sentences are issued, they are typically for two to three years."
In a letter sent to Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian earlier this month, Holly Cartner, the Europe and Central Asia director of the HRW, wrote: “We consider the additional 1.5 years that he has yet to serve are disproportionate to the offense, and call on you to review his case and grant him early release."
Babajanian emigrated to the United States in 1998. He studied at Georgetown University and created a bilingual (Armenian and English) newspaper and Internet news magazine. He returned to Armenia in February 2006 and started publishing “Zhamanak Yerevan,” which became one of Armenia’s most popular newspapers.
Babajanian quickly gained a reputation as a harsh critic of then-President Robert Kocharian.
The U.S. State Department, in its annual human rights report, listed Babajanian's case under the heading of “Political Prisoners and Detainees," quoting observers who said he is a victim of selective enforcement.