On April 5, during the meeting of “National Unity” opposition party leaders with the voters, organized in one of Yerevan downtown streets, young people of strong build and boxer cut started to throw eggs at the orator and those assembled. In some spots, objects of petard type exploded at people’s feet. The journalists covering the meeting tried to record the incident, however, they were attacked immediately: the “strong guys”, divided in groups, started to use violence against media representatives and to shatter their equipment.
As a result, physical, material and moral damage was caused to the media and journalists. Cameras of ”Kentron”, “Hay TV” private channels and Public Television of Armenia newscasts were broken, similarly to the one by cameraman of “National Unity” party. A cameraman of another private TV company, “Shant”, had the incident video record snatched away.
Photocorrespondent of “Hetq” online of Association of Investigative Journalists of Armenia, UK citizen Onik Grigorian, “Aravot” daily correspondent Anna Israelian and “Haikakan Zhamanak” daily correspondent Hayk Gevorgian were exposed to attacks and blows. All the three had their photo cameras crashed. The 17-year-old resident of Aghartsin village, Armen Tamrazyan, attempting to protect the journalists, was seriously injured.
Earlier on April 5, “Haikakan Zhamanak” correspondent was hampered in his professional activity. Hayk Gevorgian was detained in the town of Ashtarak during the photo shooting on the highway leading to Yerevan and blocked by the police. According to the journalist, an hour-long “instructive conversation” on legal issues was conducted with him at local police department.
The rally in the capital was heavily guarded by the police. According to the eyewitnesses, their administration, in particular Deputy Head of RA Police Hovhannes Varian were also present. However, none of the guards interfered in the incident with the journalists.
On April 6, Head of Yerevan Police Department Nerses Nazarian declared at the briefing devoted to April 5 events that the police forces were ordered to step in only in case of emergency. Given Colonel Nazarian’s refusal to answer the questions, it was impossible to find out whether the acts of violence towards journalists might be viewed as “emergency”? Meanwhile, Yerevan Police Head asserted that materials on the incident were in preparation stage.
We earnestly hope that this time at least law and order bodies will be able to finally track and punish the perpetrators. For the exception of the disclosed murder of the Chairman of the Council of Public TV and Radio Company, Tigran Naghdalian, all the rest numerous acts of violence towards the journalists still “hang in the air”. Only a single circumstance, too obvious by itself, gives a week chance for hoping that those guilty of April 5 incident will nevertheless be punished. The evening broadcasts of “Kentron” TV repeatedly showed the scene of the “strong guys” dealing with one of the cameramen. Several photos of the attackers were also published by a number of newspapers. According to various opinions, egg-throwers/camera-breakers are bodyguards of high rank officials and oligarchs.
The statement of “Hetq” photocorrespondent Onik Grigorian, a victim of the incident, in particular expresses indignation at the coverage of the events by Public Television of Armenia placing “all blame on the opposition” and the police that kept out. After a blow in his face, the journalist “turned to the police for help but they did not care to interfere”.
Armenian political forces, NGOs, including human rights and journalistic ones, as well as international organizations publicly condemned the incident.
On April 6 upon the initiative of Yerevan Press Club, the participants of “Civil Society in the Context of Democratic Reform in Armenia” workshop, organized by “Partnership for Open Society” initiative (currently uniting 40 NGOs) adopted a joint statement.
The statement of the NGOs and journalists runs:
“On April 5, 2004 prior to the Yerevan meeting of “National Unity” party leaders with the voters, the police impeded journalists’ activity on the highways connecting the regions with the capital. During the rally, authorities obviously connived at the violence applied: the journalists were exposed to beating, photo and video cameras were broken, films and tapes were confiscated and destroyed. Both hampering journalists’ work and violence towards them fall under criminal offence.
Overt bias of certain media, even those who fell victim to the incident, in covering the events is also to be blamed.
We, participants of the workshop, organized by “Partnership for Open Society” initiative, strongly condemn one more instance of regular violation of the rights for receiving and disseminating information, as well as freedom of expression. We call upon law and order bodies to punish the instigators and perpetrators.
We declare that if in this case as well the culprits, several of them being known, are not punished and the damage to the media is not compensated, we will have to state that Armenian authorities are not interested in consolidating the basic democratic values in the country: the rights for freedom of expression, press, travel, conducting meetings and rallies, exchanging opinions and the right of the society for getting objective information.
We call on all the media, irrespective of their political preferences, to demonstrate professional unity and to rise against the cases of violation of freedom of expression through joint efforts.”