Ararat Davtyan

16:17, October 1, 2013

In October of 2012, Armenia's Police Depart organized a three day
conference in the resort town of Tzaghkadzor for its employees and

"Please help us in doing our work. We are your brothers, not
outsiders," entreated Police Chief Vladimir Gasparyan in his sales
pitch to the gather members of the press.

Ever since Armenian independence 22 years ago there have been
countless attacks and violations against reporters and sadly,
most have gone unresolved. The culprits have never been punished
for their deeds. And the few cases that have been exposed and made
it to trial in the courts, can only be said to have been "exposed"
with serious reservations.

Vladimir Gasparyan has inherited a vast legacy of such unexposed
cases. "Have you ever gone back and looked anew at those cases?" Hetq
asked the Police Chief after the conference had ended.

"No I haven't. It never occurred to me. There's so much on my plate,"
Gasparyan answered and directed the head of the Police department's
Press Office to remind him about all those unsolved cases.

"When we finish solving our current caseload, we'll take a look at
the backlog," added Gasparyan.

This, perhaps, is the most sincere confession uttered from the lips
of the Chief of Police. Solving cases of assault and other violations
against reporters has been placed on the back-burner in Armenia.

Police chiefs come and go, but the overall picture in the country
remains the same.

In the same conversation with Hetq, Vladimir Gasparyan also noted
that during his tenure as the top cop, assaults against reporters
"haven't yet occurred". 'Yet' is the operative word, and all we can
do is wait and see.

In general, attempts to disrupt reporters doing their work and acts of
violence against them spike during election cycles. This year was no
exception. We had the presidential election in February and Yerevan
Municipal Council elections in May.

Election Violations

On presidential Election Day February 18, Narine Ismail, a young
woman volunteering at the Transparency International-Armenia NGO as
an election monitor for European Rights Coalition NGO and reporter
Artak Hambardzumyan, a representative for the Reporters for Human
Rights NGO, raised the alarm about ballot stuffing in Ararat Polling
Station 17/05. Some 25-30 young men had entered the polling station and
several of them pushed the monitor and reporter up against the wall,
grasping their hands, so that they couldn't take photos or videotape
the ballot stuffing.

The Constitutional Court declared the election results from this
polling station null and void. A criminal case was launched, headed
by the Special Investigative Service (SIS). During the preliminary
examination, Narine Ismail told Hetq about the pressure exerted on
her by law enforcement. Transparency International-Armenia issued a
statement on the matter and U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Heffern
announced that he was following the case with great attention.

Investigator Gorik Hovakimyan split the case and filed charges against
27 year-old Sergey, the son of Artashat Mayor Gagik Mouradyan. The
SIS found that on Election Day Sergey, as the proxy of President
Serzh Sargsyan, entered the polling station with a group of others
and assaulted monitor Narine Ismail, restricted her movement and
prevented her from taking photos, thus hindering her in the execution
of her work.

The statement released by the Prosecutor General Office notes,
"According to evidence received before the trial, Sergey Mouradyan
also aided unidentified individuals in stuffing the ballot box."

However, during the court procedure Prosecutor Harutyun Harutyunyan
declared that the charges against the accused would be dropped,
given the lack of evidence that he participated in the violation
that occurred.

Thus, months later, on July 26, presiding judge Gagik Sargsyan of the
Ararat and Vayots Dzor Provincial Court found Sergey Mouradyan (who
works as a first degree legal specialist at the Legal Consultation
Division of the National Assembly's Department of Expertise)
not guilty and exonerated. The SIS halted the other section of the
criminal case, arguing that the identity of the other culprits could
not be ascertained.

Iravunk newspaper reporter Elmira Martirosyan declared that on Election
Day, February 18, at polling station 17/01 in Ararat Province, she
was hindered from carrying out her work by election proxies.

At polling station 17/04, New York Institute of Photography
correspondent Tzovinar Nazaryan was hindered from her work by Tigran
Virabyan, President of the local election committee and head of
the Ararat Provincial Government's Department of Agriculture and
Environmental Protection. Virabyan yelled at the reporter "like a
hysterical person", threatening her by saying, "I'll kill you".

That same day the websites and reported that
reporters Marine Petrosyan and Nune Arevshatyan were threatened at
Gyumri polling station 35/22. and also reported that
reporters Marine Martirosyan and Hripsime Djebejyan were hindered
from working at polling stations 9/27 and 9/28 in Yerevan's Nor
Gyugh neighborhood.

Nevertheless, none of these incidents made it past the examination
stage, on the basis of a "lack of a crime".

The Police also failed to find evidence of a "corpus delicti" in the
case of reporters Gayane Saribekyan and Marine Kharatyan with the
newspapers Hraparak and Zhamanak. On Election Day, near the campaign
headquarters of the Republican Party in Yerevan's Metaks neighborhood,
the two reporters approached a group of some 10-15 individuals,
asking to know what was going on. The group cursed the reporters and
tried to snatch their photo equipment.

During an interrogation at the SIS, it was revealed that Hakob
Beglaryan, younger brother of Transportation and Communications
Minister Gagik Beglaryan, was one of those actively hindering the
reporters. On March 15, the SIS dropped the case.

The situation was the same during the Yerevan Municipal Council
elections. On April 23, while covering a campaign stop of Taron
Margaryan (number one candidate on the Republican Party ballot), reporter Hakob Karapetyan was assaulted. In addition to
being roughed up, they hindered his professional work by snatching
his camera and erasing the photo file.

Based on the findings of an internal investigation, Police Chief
Vladimir Gasparyan issued a disciplinary warning to a cop that was
at the scene but failed to intervene. The cop's immediate supervisor
was issued a severe reprimand and a police officer serving as the
deputy head of the Nor Nork branch was dismissed. It seemed that Ashot
Papayan, a Republican Party member in the Yerevan Municipal Council,
would also be punished. Papayan was the "hero" of the day since he
assaulted the reporter. It took the Police two months to state that
there was evidence of a crime in what Papayan had done. On July 20,
he publicly expressed regret for his actions and asked for forgiveness.

Four days later, law enforcement dropped the case on the grounds that
the parties had reconciled.

May 5, the day when elections took place for the Yerevan Municipal
Council, was also replete with reporters being prevented from carrying
out their work and the police failing to find any "corpus delicti".

On that day, the police received a report that voters in the Arabkir
4/02 polling precinct were being bused in to cast their ballots. Local
election committee President Samvel Gzlaryan, a member of the ruling
Republican Party, refused to provide any comment to news outlets and
yelled at reporters on the scene. Heritage Party proxy Lala Arzumanyan
claimed that Gzlaryan was hindering reporters from doing their job.

Samvel Zakharyan, president of election committee at the 7/14 polling
station in the Haghtanak neighborhood, shoved a Hetq reporter out of
the building for not having proper press I.D. At the 7/05 polling
station, a reporter from Kentron TV was barred from entering the
building after failing to produce a certain document from the Central
Electoral Commission. At polling station 8/08, Republican Party
candidate Gevorg Manoukyan, using a proxy I.D., disrupted the work of
reporters and monitors. Later that night, after the polls closed, a
reporter from the newspaper 168 Zham was barred from entering polling
station 07/34 to witness the vote count. At polling station 6/23,
an Aravot newspaper reporter was not permitted to take photos.

Violations outside the electoral process

The incidents listed above are just a portion of the violations that
occurred. During the current year there have been other incidents,
outside the electoral process, where violations have occurred
against reporters. In certain cases, the police manifested a degree
of follow-up, but on the whole, even these illusions of concern were
quickly shattered.

With certain reservations, the case regarding photo-journalist Gagik
Shamshyan can be added to the list of exceptions. On January 30 of this
year, Rustam Sahakyan and an unidentified friend, hindered Shamshyan
from reporting from the Traffic Police's auto impound center. The two
assaulted the reporter and verbally abused him with sexual expletives.

The Police sent the case to court, charging Rustamyan with hooliganism
and issuing verbal threats of violence. (The case is still pending).

Charges against his unidentified friend were dropped.

On May 8, Hetq reporter Ani Hovhannisyan received a call from a cell
phone registered in Russia. The caller threatened her, saying that if
she continued to poke her nose in places where she shouldn't, it would
turn out bad for her and her family members. For a while, the police
took steps to safeguard Hovhannisyan's security. A criminal case was
launched. Based on transcripts provided by a telephone provider in
Armenia of the calls made and received by the cell phone number in
question, five citizens and four witnesses were questioned. After
all this, the case hasn't passed the preliminary examination stage.

On March 1, Vorotan newspaper editor Arevhat Amiryan published an
article claiming that Samvel Tangyan, head of the Syunik Provincial
Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection, had issued
threats against him and his family regarding an earlier publication.

"Arevik, I will destroy you and your family", was the alleged threat.

An inquiry conducted by the Syunik Investigative Unit found the lack
of corpus delicti and the case was dropped.

In certain cases of reporters being assaulted, the investigative
service of the Defense Ministry or the Military Police got involved.

But the modus operandi of law enforcement in these cases as well
remained the same.

On May 18, the relatives of a soldier who had died in a military unit,
tried to take the corpse to Yerevan in a sign of protest. At a road
checkpoint placed on the Sevan-Yerevan Highway, the police stopped
all cars ferrying reporters to the spot where the dead soldier's
relatives had blocked traffic. The cops later assaulted the reporters
and seized their recording equipment, arguing that they had received
an order from above to prohibit any photographing.

According to the statements made by the news outlets, individuals in
uniforms and plainclothes used force to seize and break the camera
equipment belonging to a crew from Kentron TV. The damaged equipment
was later returned and the video erased. Members of the Military Police
also used force to seize the video camera of correspondent
Siranoush Papyan. They erased whatever she had recorded up till then. A
camera crew from Yerkir Media had their memory card confiscated. It
was later returned after the police chief intervened.

The Sevan branch of the Gegharkunik Police assembled case materials
that were handed over to the Gegharkunik Provincial Prosecutor's
Office. From there the case file was to go to the Defense Ministry's
Investigative Branch. But the case was dropped at this point
since law enforcement claimed they couldn't identify anyone to
charge. The Ministry's Investigative Branch also rejected launching
an investigation on the same basis.

On May 30, correspondent Lusine Ghazaryan stated that
she was assaulted near her home by Ministry of Defense Major Arkady
Lazarian. Ghazaryan alleged that the major verbally abused her and
tried to beat her, but was stopped when neighbors intervened. The
reporter also said that Lazarian shoved her son down the stairs.

The next day, according to the reporter, the Nayri Police Chief
returned her written complaint, advising her to amicably resolve the
matter without police intervention. In the end, the case was handed
over to the Kotayk Unit of the Defense Ministry's Military Police.

Lusine Ghazaryan told Hetq that the Abovyan Military police launched a
criminal case, but that it was dropped a week later. The reason given
was that no injuries had been documented and that verbal assault wasn't
a criminally prosecutable crime. Ghazaryan says that law enforcement
failed to take into account the premeditated nature of the incident
and that they didn't interview witnesses.

On May 19, founder Babken Haroutyunyan issued a statement
alleging that he was assaulted two days earlier when he visited the
village of Kanachout in Ararat Province. Haroutyunyan says he went
there to photograph the palatial home of presidential advisor and
former Police Chief Alik Sargsyan. After photographing the house,
he says he was assaulted by Alik Sargsyan's brother Andranik.

A forensic exam was scheduled and the case material was forwarded
to the Ararat Investigative Unit. But the case was rejected on the
grounds that there was no evidence that a crime had been committed.

On September 2, a woman participating in a counter demonstration
at Yerevan's Covered Market verbally insulted and threatened Radio
Liberty reporter Nane Sahakyan. The incident was caught on tape.

Sahakyan reported the incident to Deputy Police Chief Valery Osipyan
who was on the scene. Osipyan then approached the woman in question
and said, "This citizen alleges that you have threatened her. Please
refrain from voicing such threats."

The Police later informed Hetq that they had received no formal
complaint. When asked if the tape recording wasn't sufficient proof,
the Police Department's Press Office repeated the same argument -
"No one filed a formal complaint. We haven't received any."

Nane Sahakyan says the entire incident was an attempt to hinder her
job as a reporter. She stated, "I wasn't interviewing that woman
(Karine Sargsyan), but a woman standing next to her." Sahakyan
confessed that she hadn't filed a complaint in order not to waste
time or get stressed out.

On September 4, news outlets reported that police scuffled with
activists and reporters near the Presidential Palace. Activists
gathered across the street to protest Armenia's decision to join the
Customs Union. Some of the demonstrators had approached the gate and
were standing there peacefully when they were forcefully shoved back
by the police.

Some of the protestors then sat down in the middle of the street and
a few were arrested.

Regarding the incident, wrote that the cops also prevented
journalists from covering the event, violently shoving them so that
they couldn't photograph those who had been detained. The news outlet
says that the police pushed their reporter and other press members
on top of the protestors sitting in the street. "They encircled the
reporters and didn't let them out," wrote.

The Yerevan Department of Investigations failed to launch a criminal
investigation of the incident.

From: Baghdasarian