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Attacks on the Press in 2004 - Armenia

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 2005
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2004 - Armenia, February 2005, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c566c7c.html [accessed 25 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The Armenian government failed to protect journalists during violent demonstrations in April against President Robert Kocharian. In some cases, authorities were directly involved in attacks on the press.

On April 5, police stood by during an opposition rally while two dozen men attacked several journalists and cameramen. A Yerevan court convicted two men of the attack, fining them 100,000 drams (US$182) each for "deliberately damaging property," the journalists' cameras. Some victims and the opposition media claimed that the trial was merely a government attempt to create the appearance of accountability, the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

During another opposition rally the next week, police destroyed the cameras of journalists from the Russian TV station Channel One and the daily Haykakan Zhamanak (Armenian Time). At least four journalists were injured when police officers used batons, stun grenades, and water jets to disperse several thousand demonstrators.

The impunity surrounding these attacks made journalists more vulnerable. In August, Mkhitar Khachatryan, a photojournalist with Fotolur news agency who was reporting on environmentally damaging housing construction in central Armenia, was beaten by an unidentified man who threatened him with death and forced him to hand over his photos. Khachatryan had been taking photos near the mansion of a former police chief.

Although a private citizen was sentenced in October to six months in prison for the assault, a security guard for the police chief who reportedly ordered the attack was neither detained nor charged, the Yerevan-based Association of Investigative Journalists in Armenia reported.

Television coverage of the spring opposition rallies and other politically sensitive issues favored Kocharian, who ensured that TV stations remained in the hands of government supporters or those who would not criticize his policies. For the second year in a row, politicized media regulators kept A1+, an independent and influential TV station that has sharply criticized government policies, off the air. The National Council on Television and Radio – a government body that regulates broadcasting frequencies and is stacked with Kocharian supporters – shuttered A1+ in April 2002 and has since rejected eight applications from the station for a broadcasting license.

Broadcasting authorities also kept local television channels that were moderately independent – such as Yerevan station Noyan Tapan, which was also shuttered in April 2002 – off the air. No new frequency tenders are planned until 2009.

Unlike television, the print media enjoy greater autonomy from government control, but most publications are controlled by political parties and wealthy businessmen, compromising their editorial independence and professional standards. According to the U.S.-based media training organization IREX ProMedia, low salaries encourage widespread corruption among reporters.

Journalists also faced declining legal protection, with the government continuing to ignore calls from press freedom organizations, the Council of Europe, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to repeal criminal defamation and insult laws added to the Criminal Code in April 2003. The statutes threaten journalists with up to three years in prison and have increased self-censorship, according to IREX.


2004 Documented Cases – Armenia

APRIL 5, 2004
Posted: April 6, 2004

Kentron
Hay TV
Public Television
Shant
Onnik Kirkorian, freelance
ATTACKED

Journalists covering an opposition rally in Armenia's capital, Yerevan, were attacked by two dozen men in civilian clothes. The men smashed journalists' cameras, assaulted several reporters, and destroyed filmed footage of the events, the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported.

The men attempted to disrupt the rally by throwing eggs at Artashes Geghamian, the opposition party National Unity leader, who addressed a crowd of about 5,000 people from atop a van.

Several hundred policemen present at the rally stood by passively as the assailants smashed the videocameras of three Armenian television stations – and the still cameras of two opposition dailies-Aravot and Haykakan Jhamanak. According to RFE/RL, the assailants forced reporters with the private television station Shant to surrender their videotape of the rally. Several reporters and cameramen were physically injured in the clash, the Association of Investigative Journalists in Armenia (Hetq) reported.

According to RFE/RL, Onnik Krikorian, a British freelance photojournalist, who was hit in the face by one of the assailants, approached the police for protection, but an officer advised him to complain to the British Embassy.

APRIL 13, 2004
Posted: April 14, 2004

Ayk Gevorgian, Aykakan Zhamanak
Avetis Babajanian, Aykakan Zhamanak
Levon Grigorian, ORT
Mher Ghalechian, Chorrord Ishkhanutyun
ATTACKED

Gevorgian and Babajanian, reporters with the opposition daily Aykakan Zhamanak (Armenian Times); Grigorian, a cameraman with the Russian TV channel ORT; and Ghalechian, a journalist with the opposition weekly Chorrord Ishkhanutyun, were all hurt after being beaten by police during a rally, according to the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

Elina Poghosbekian, editor of the newsletter of the Yerevan Press Club, told CPJ that Gevorgian was treated for serious injuries but that he is now in stable condition. CPJ does not currently have information on the status of the other journalists. Police destroyed the cameras of both Gevorgian and Grigorian.

The rally, organized by several opposition parties, began on April 12 at around 6 p.m. with about 15,000 demonstrators marching toward the residence of President Robert Kocharian and calling for a referendum on his rule, RFE/RL reported.

Violence erupted at about 2 a.m., when the lights went out in the area. Police then beat protestors and the journalists with batons, using stun grenades and water jets to disperse the remaining demonstrators.

Another opposition rally had been held on April 5. Several hundred police stood by while about two dozen unidentified men smashed the video cameras of three Armenian television stations and the still cameras of two opposition dailies.

AUGUST 24, 2004
Posted: August 26, 2004

Mkhitar Khachatryan, Fotolur
ATTACKED, HARASSED

Anna Israelyan, Aravot
HARASSED

Khachatryan was assaulted after photographing the opulent homes of government officials in the central Armenian resort city of Tsakhkadzor.

Khachatryan, with the news agency Fotolur, and Israelyan, a correspondent with the independent daily Aravot, were reporting on damages caused to Tsakhkadzor forests by housing construction. Khachatryan photographed villas belonging to high-level police and government officials, the Armenian Service of the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported.

A man guarding a mansion that purportedly belongs to Armen Yeritsyan, deputy chief of Armenian national police, approached the two journalists while Khachatryan was taking photos of the building. The guard ordered Khachatryan to stop photographing and the journalists left the area, according to the RFE/RL.

The guard, accompanied by several other men, later spotted Khachatryan and Israelyan at a café in Tskhkadzor. One of the men beat Khachatryan, causing bruises to his neck and arms, and threatened to kill the photographer, RFE/RL said.

Israelyan and Khachatryan were forced to surrender the photo storage card containing Khachatryan's photos, local reports said.

In an article published in Aravot, Israelyan gave a first-person account of the attack and described the pair's efforts to report on the effect of home construction on the forests. The newspaper ran blank frames with captions where the destroyed photographs were supposed to run.

Copyright notice: © Committee to Protect Journalists. All rights reserved. Articles may be reproduced only with permission from CPJ.

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