On September 8, the National Assembly of Armenia resumed its work after the summer holidays. The contacts of parliamentary journalists with legislators also resumed.
Most likely, for many MPs summer vacation was unfairly short: they could hardly sit out the workday in the session hall. They were noisy and tried to escape the session at the first opportunity, just like school pupils at lessons. So, Galust Sahakian, Speaker of the parliament, on the first day of the work week had a hard time bringing the colleagues to order to start the session. He had to remind the MPs that journalists were also present in the session hall. The Speaker recommended the MPs to make some more noise, “so that the journalists have something to write about.”
The MPs from the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) sat through the opening of the first session for the sake of decency, and then began leaving the hall, despite the Sunday address of the RA President calling upon the RPA MPs to work more actively in the parliament. At that point they were “caught” by journalists, and therefore had to answer a few questions. Some said that they were heading to their offices to work on the legislation, others were even harsher. “Get out of here!”, Arakel Movsisian, MP from the RPA, threw to media representatives. This is exactly the same person, whose rude treatment to journalists is regularity being dealt with by the Committee on Ethics of the parliament.
Mher Sedrakian, another MP from RPA, did not want to communicate with journalists, saying that he was offended by them: “Foolish things you write”, he responded. Nahapet Gevorgian, also Republican, when asked to comment on the above-mentioned address of the RA President, simply reproached the journalists: “Are you not ashamed of your actions?!”
The “ashamed” parliamentary journalists believe that this autumn too the Committee on Ethics will not be left without work.
The topic of boorish treatment towards media representatives in the main legislative body of the country continued right on the second “post-vacation” day.
On September 9, another incident of impeding journalists’ activities occurred at the main entrance of the National Assembly, this time involving Karen Hayrapetian, chief of the parliament’s security service.
On September 9, members of “Counterblow” Art Group hung a banner reading “Hello, Rob” on the main gate of the National Assembly. The activists wanted to remind about the events which happened 13 years ago. Back then, bodyguards of Robert Kocharian, Armenian’s Second President, beat a Georgia citizen Poghos Poghosian for saying “Hello, Rob” at the cafe “Aragast” in Yerevan downtown. The beating caused the death of the victim.
Several minutes later an irate individual in civilian clothes came out from parliament’s gates and tore down the banner. The man rushed to Marineh Khachatrian, correspondent of “A1+”, filming the banner, and hit her on the arm, knocking down her tablet.
The man then identified himself as the chief of the parliament’s security service but refused to give his name. As it turned out later, he was indeed Karen Hayrapetian, chief of the Security Service of the National Assembly. Hayrapetian tried to justify his actions saying that he did not see her press badge and assumed that she was the one who hanged the banner. However, there were numerous witnesses to the incident, including journalists filming it.
On September 10, during the session of the parliament, the opposition MPs called on the NA Speaker Galust Sahakian to hold an internal investigation against the head of the security service in connection with the obstruction of professional activity of “A1+” correspondent. According to Nikol Pashinian, MP from the Armenian National Congress, this was a serious offense which should be addressed by law enforcement agencies. Tevan Poghosian, MP from the “Heritage” party, has also suggested to organize “courses of tolerance” for security staff, describing the incident as an act of aggression on part of the chief security officer.
The NA Speaker Galust Sahakian did not respond to these calls. In fact, Eduard Sharmazanov, the Vice-Speaker of the parliament, did that for him. “The rule of law must prevail in Armenia, no matter who breaks the law. It is unacceptable that freedom of speech is ignored in Armenia, and journalist’s work is hindered,” Sharmazanov said (quoted from a piece by “А1+”).
On September 11, Yerevan Press Club, Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, Media Initiatives Center (former Internews Armenia), “Asparez” Journalists’ Club, Media Diversity Institute-Armenia, “Journalists for the Future” and “А1+” TV company issued a statement describing the incident “as an act of impeding the professional activities of a journalist, which makes for a criminal offence”. The seven professional organizations urge the RA Prosecutor’s Office to regard this statement as a report of the crime, and the National Assembly of Armenia to hold Karen Hayrapetian responsible and to take appropriate steps in order to prevent reoccurrence of such incidents in the future.
As RA Prosecutor’s Office reported on September 12, Gevorg Kostanian, Prosecutor General of Armenia, has instructed that all media coverage of the September 9 incident, be forwarded to the RA Special Investigation Service.