On October 11 at the court of primary jurisdiction of Kotayk region of Hrazdan city the hearing of the case on attacking the correspondent of “Photolure” photo news agency Mkhitar Khachatrian and obstructing the professional activities of Mkhitar Khachatrian and the correspondent of “Aravot” daily Anna Israelian. As it has been reported, the incident occurred on August 24 in Tsaghkadzor, where the journalists were preparing a piece on the forest cutting in the vicinity of sports complex for the construction of summerhouses of high-ranked officials. After the end of the shootings, Mkhitar Khachatrian was approached by a group of men, one of whom took the memory chip of Khachatrian’s camera by force (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, August 26 – September 2, 2004). Charges of public disorder (part 1 of Article 258 of the RA Criminal Code) and the obstruction of legitimate professional activities of journalists (part 1 of Article 164 of the RA Criminal Code) were introduced to a Yerevan resident, formerly twice convicted Gagik Stepanian.
Even before the start of the litigation the defendant compensated the material damage incurred by the photojournalist, paying the cost of the memory chip, $ 250.
At the second session (the first was held on October 7) the court recognized Gagik Stepanian to be guilty and announced the sentence – six months’ imprisonment.
YPC Comment: This case gives rise to dubious feelings. On the one hand, of all the assaults on media representatives for the first time those at fault were charged with an article of obstructing journalistic activity and were sentenced to custody. The need for this, particularly in the context of increased number of attacks on journalists on duty in 2003-2004, was constantly insisted on by the journalistic community. On the other hand, similarly to the previous investigations of such incidents, a number of questions come up. Why is it that media representatives are attacked by several people, but only one or two are brought to court? Why is the investigation only confined to finding the executors, mostly unemployed, who state they just happened to be passing there by a coincidence? Why in none of the cases neither the investigators nor the court is able to involve those, whose interests are so fervently protected by people doing the dirty work? And, last but not least, why during the process the defendants spit out threats and curses to the journalists in the courtroom? Gagik Stepanian, too, before going to jail, promised to take his revenge on the journalists after his release. And actually, Stepanian, who has now been convicted for the third time, has all chances to be released soon. Having been arrested in late August and sentenced in October (the sentence will come into force in 15 days), Stepanian has already spent half of the sentence in prison, since one day of preliminary custody is equal to one day and a half of imprisonment. And it is quite possible to discard even the remaining three months: according to Armenian legislation, upon the expiration of one-third of the sentence, the convict can appeal for an early release.