HEAD OF THE POLICE DEPARTMENT GAVE SLAP TO JOURNALIST
On February 12, around 19.00, in the center of Yerevan, Ani Gevorgian, correspondent of “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun” newspaper, and Sargis Gevorgian, cameraman of the iLur.am, were forcibly taken to a police department while they are covering the distribution of leaflets by activists of the opposition party, Armenian National Congress (ANC), tried to inform passers-by about a forthcoming rally of the ANC. According to Ani Gevorgian, a group of young people was putting obstacles to the activists. (As it turned out later, these young people were mainly students of the National Agriculture University and members of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia.) The two opposing groups sparked off a verbal altercation. The police, having come to the scene of the incident, began forcing the activists into police vehicles, even without trying to find out what was happening. As Ani Gevorgian informed, the police officers, having noticed that journalists were filming the incident, initially tried to seize cameras. Then the law enforcers forcible took the journalists to the Kentron Police Department of Yerevan, where they succeeded in seizing the equipment. Ani Gevorgian adds that when she was in the presence of two female police officers speaking by the cell phone with her colleagues, who inquired about her condition, a man in plain clothes entered the room, gave the journalist a slap in the face and took the phone. As it turned out later, the assaulter was Artak Poghosian, the head of the Kentron Police Department. Sargis Gevorgian, a cameraman, also suffered from ill-treatment at the police department. Journalists were released after four hours, without allowing lawyers to speak with them. Video equipment was returned, but the content of the Ani Gevorgian’s camera memory card was erased. Sargis Gevorgian was lucky to save the captured frames.
On February 13, Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, Yerevan Press Club, Media Diversity Institute-Armenia, “Journalists for the Future” NGO, Armenian Helsinki Committee and Goris Press Club issued a statement. They stressed that over the past years, the cases of impeding professional activities of journalists in Armenia by the police have become more frequent. Representatives of journalistic community demanded the RA Prosecutor’s Office considered this statement (as well as numerous publications in the press dealing with the incident) as a report on the crime. Besides they demand that the RA Police carried out an official investigation against the chief of Kentron Police Department and his subordinates.
According to the RA Police communication of February 13, the Head of RA Police Vladimir Gasparian has ordered to initiate an official investigation based on official statement by Ani Gevorgian on the fact of unlawful actions against her.
Karen Andreasian, RA Human Rights Defender, posted on his Facebook page that “the use of force against journalists leads to criminal liability, especially if those crimes were committed by public officials.” According to Human Rights Defender, the only way to prevent such crimes is getting a clear and bold response of law enforcement agencies. The ombudsman stated that he expected “a proper and comprehensive investigation, as well as informing the public about the results in the nearest future”.
On February 14, Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, expressed concern about police obstruction of journalists’ activities. “Violence against journalists is unacceptable. It is especially alarming that police officers responsible to assist and protect journalists used force against them”, OSCE Representative stressed in a letter to Armenian authorities. Dunja Mijatovic urged the authorities “to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the incident, and do everything possible to avoid police misconduct towards members of the media in the future”.
On February 17, the Journalists’ Union of Armenia joined the statement of media NGOs. The statement emphasized that that even earlier the cases of impeding journalists’ activities were investigated, but no one was ever punished. Impunity gives rise to violence, the statement particularly stressed.
TRIAL ON ARMENIA TODAY COORDINATOR’S CRIMINAL CASE STARTED
On February 12, the Court of General Jurisdiction of Arabkir and Kanaker-Zeytun Administrative Districts of Yerevan started hearing the criminal case against Argishti Kivirian, the coordinator of ARMENIA TODAY. He is accused of using violence against a representative of authorities.
As we have reported, Argishti Kivirian was detained on August 24, 2013, during the public protests against the construction of a residential building in the vicinity of 5 Komitas Avenue in Yerevan. According to the journalist, the law-enforcers beat him in the police car, he was summoned to the Yerevan Arabkir Police Department with injuries and bruises on his face, from where the ambulance transferred him to “Erebuni” medical center. On August 25, the police instituted criminal proceedings against him on charges of Article 316 of the RA Criminal Code (“Violence against a representative of the authorities”). In his turn, Argishti Kivirian addressed the police with a statement about the use of force during his detention. All materials related to the incident were sent to the RA Special Investigative Service that initially accused the journalist by Article 316 as well as Article 333 (“False denunciation”) of the Criminal Code. Later the investigative body acquitted him of the false denunciation charge and offered to grant the journalist an amnesty. However, Argishti Kivirian refused the amnesty and demanded that all the offenders involved in illegal actions against him should be called to account. On January 22, the Special Investigative Service sent the criminal case against Argishti Kivirian to court (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, January 24-30, 2014).
At the February 12 session Argishti Kivirian pleaded not guilty and demanded the withdrawal of the judge. The demand was rejected. The parties established the order of examination of evidence and of the questioning, as well as agreed to interrogate the “victim” policeman at the next hearings on February 25.
“INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISTS” EVALUATED THE STATE OF MEDIA FREEDOM IN ARMENIA IN 2013
The “Investigative Journalists” NGO published a study “State of Media Freedom in Armenia in 2013: Core Problems and Challenges”, supported by the OSCE Office in Yerevan. The e-book (in Armenian and English) includes not only the well-known issues on legislative initiatives, incidents involving journalists, and judicial practices in cases of defamation, but also the activities (or rather inaction) of law enforcement agencies, hatchet men acting online, as well as challenges to print media.
RSF PUBLISHED THE 2013 PRESS FREEDOM INDEX
On February 11, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released its 12th annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index. The study was conducted in 180 countries and was based on events between December 1, 2012 and November 30, 2013. The index was compiled by surveying 18 partner organizations and 150 correspondents of RSF, as well as journalists, researchers, lawyers and human rights activists. The respondents were assessing the press freedom in each country with a questionnaire compiled by RSF and considering 6 media criteria: pluralism, media independence, environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency of the institutions and procedures that affect the production of news and information, and infrastructure that supports the production of news and information. In this study the questionnaire included new part about the number of violations of different kinds used against representatives of traditional and new media.
The report’s authors note that conflicts in different parts of the world had a negative impact on freedom of information and journalists. In some countries, journalists’ rights were violated in terms of providing them with information and informing citizens due to alleged national security reasons. According to experts, this trend is prevalent throughout the world and represents a serious threat to media freedom.
The top ten of the Index lists the countries such as follows: Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Denmark, Iceland, New Zealand and Sweden. Turkmenistan (178th place), North Korea (179) and Eritrea (180) round out the list.
Armenia takes the lead among the countries of the South Caucasus region, holding 78th position. The country lost four positions, compared with 2012. Georgia follows Armenia in the list, having shown a rise by 17 positions and ranking 84th this year. According to RSF, “the 2013 presidential election was less tense that the previous year’s parliamentary elections, which were marked by physical attacks and hate campaigns against journalists. Thanks to political cohabitation and then a change of government through the polls, Georgia has recovered some of the terrain lost in recent years”. These two countries are followed by Turkey (154th, which hasn’t changed) and Azerbaijan (160 versus 156th in 2012). Russia took 148th position, which hasn’t changed since 2012. The position of the neighboring Iran was rose slightly – to 173rd position versus 174th in 2012.
According to RSF, although their positions in the index are fairly dispersed, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan all enjoy a significant degree of pluralism and relatively little state censorship. “But the considerable social polarization is reflected in the media and the climate for journalists, who are often harassed by pressure groups. Given that the political orientation of individual media usually coincides with that of their owners, it would seem that respect for the editorial independence of media employees is still limited”, RSF stressed.