On August 21 Yerevan Press Club, the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, Media Diversity Institute-Armenia, “Asparez” Journalists Club of Gyumri, Vanadzor Office of Helsinki Citizens Assembly, Vanadzor Press Club and Transparency International Anti-Corruption Center released a statement on the incidents that occurred with media representatives in Armenia.
“August 2008 was unrivaled in terms of violence against journalists. Herein these incidents are listed chronologically:
1. On August 1 in the city of Ashtarak the administrative officer of “Haikakan Zhamanak” daily Gagik Hovakimian was brought to a police department, where he was held for about an hour and a half. Gagik Hovakimian had driven the newspaper correspondent Anna Zakharian in an editorial car – for the journalist to report on the situation in the city, in particular, the interrupted transportation service on the day when an opposition rally was to be held in Yerevan. Despite the demands of the editorial staff, the police officers, who had exercised illegal violence against a media representative, have not been held accountable to this day.
2. On August 5, upon the order of the judge of the court of primary jurisdiction Kentron and Nork-Marash communities Gagik Avetisian photo journalist Gagik Shamshian was incarcerated for several hours. Shamshian, who was going to shoot the court hearings of the case of the member of the Political Council of “Republic” party Smbat Ayvazian, was held locked in the basement of the court building, after which he was taken to the police department of Kentron community.
3. On August 6 the correspondent of “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun” newspaper Gohar Vezirian, who was covering the trial of the same case, upon an order from the judge was taken by the compulsory executors out of the courtroom. The latter ones, having used force and with blows, took Vezirian to a room, designed for holding defendants. The journalist was kept there for an hour and a half, in the company of people, charged with various crimes, after which she was taken to the police department of Kentron community.
4. On August 11 the correspondent of “Haikakan Zhamanak” daily Lusineh Barseghian was beaten upon leaving home. The journalist was moved to “Surb Grigor Lusavorich” medical center where the doctors who had examined her diagnosed a head injury and a bruise. Criminal proceedings were instituted, with the perpetrators not found to this day.
5. Finally, in the evening of August 18 in the center of Yerevan the acting head of Yerevan office of the Armenian Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Hrach Melkumian was attacked and beaten.
In other words, the society that was hoping to have a climate of tolerance established after the tragic events of March 1 witnesses a new wave of violence against press representatives. This happens now when the Republic of Armenia is supposed to make take steps for speedy implementation of PACE Resolutions 1609 ("The functioning of democratic institutions in Armenia") and 1620 ("The implementation by Armenia of Assembly Resolution 1609 (2008)”), also requiring reforms in freedom of expression.
We, representative of NGOs, express our deepest concern not only at the continuing traditional inaction of the Armenian authorities, but also the fact that the legal professional activities of journalists are all the more often obstructed by officials of court and law enforcement bodies.
We are concerned: the violence against media has come up to a dangerous line, and the authorities must not only abstractly state their anxiety and make appeals, but also take effective steps to identify all people who committed violence and offences, to punish them as strictly as the law stipulates, regardless of their positions”, the statement of the seven NGOs says.
It should also be noted that Gagik Shamshian and Gohar Vezirian were released on August 5 and 6, respectively, having spent over two hours at the Kentron police department. As to the incident of August 11, involving the correspondent of “Haikakan Zhamanak”, the criminal proceedings have been instituted by the Nor Nork police department by Article 118 of the RA Criminal Code (“Beatings”). On August 12 the Head of OSCE Office in Yerevan Sergey Kapinos sent letters to the RA Prosecutor General Aghvan Hovsepian and the Head of the RA Police Alik Sargsian with regard to the attack on Lusineh Barseghian, expressing his alarm at the occurrence and urged the law enforcement bodies to take prompt measures “to find and punish perpetrators of this violent act”. The investigation into the attack on the acting head of Yerevan office of the Armenian Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Hrach Melkumian, committed on August 18, is made by Kentron Police Department.