Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, with the assistance of Friedrich Ebert Foundation, organized a round-table meeting on the topic “Violations of the rights of media and journalists in Armenia: the response of the journalism community and government” on June 26 at the Congress Yerevan Hotel. Attending were journalists, media experts, human rights activists, representatives of international organizations.
According to Ashot Melikyan, chairman of CPFE, the issue of protection of the rights of reporters and the media has highly actualized over the past few years. The reason is one – the authorities ignore the facts of physical violence against journalists, and if these are not ignored, the approach of the law enforcement agencies is that of sheer sham, imitation. As evidence to this, Melikyan referred to statistics of 2014: out of nine cases of violence against journalists none has been revealed, nobody was held responsible. In other words, protection of the rights of journalists and the media in Armenia is not successful.
According to the chairman of CPFE, this was already substantial grounds to speak about impunity. However, what happened on June 23 created a more intolerable situation. “What happened in the morning of June 23 on Baghramyan Avenue was unprecedented. Physical violence and duress against the journalists on that day compare to the duress of the notorious year of 2008; moreover, they outdid March 1 in scope,” Ashot Melikyan said, presenting an interesting statistics: while 18 journalists underwent physical violence all through 2008, in the first six months of 2015 violence against 19 representatives of different media were reported, including 13 suffered during the events of June 23.
According to Melikyan, what happened on Baghramyan Avenue was a targeted hunt on journalists. In addition, press badges did not help the media workers avoid violence. “While in civilized countries wearing badges creates favorable conditions for journalists, protects them from violence, in Armenia, on the contrary, it helps to target media workers and helps the law enforcement agencies to restrict their activities. The June 23 events once again proved this.”
According to the chairman of CPFE, later the Armenian authorities should not be surprised if the international organizations report regress of the freedom of the press. Nevertheless, according to Melikyan, even highly critical, negative evaluations by the international organizations have no impact on the authorities.
In this situation, the chairman of CPFE underlines the necessity for the journalism community to unite and raise their voice in protest. He suggested that the journalists and human rights activists jointly discuss and develop mechanisms of counteraction for change.
The human rights activists attending the discussion advised the journalists to struggle for their rights more consistently and use all the available remedies. Ara Ghazaryan, International law expert, suggested, aside from applying to the European Court of Human Rights, to apply to the UN Human Rights Committee, underlining that it is a quasi-judicial body and in political terms it is more influential than the European Court.
Ani Gevorgyan, reporter for the “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun” Newspaper advised her colleagues to follow her example and fight until the end, not to allow shifting a penal act to the moral level and not to let a person who has used physical violence against a journalist to get away with it with an apology word.
At the end of the discussion the chairman of CPFE Ashot Melikyan urged journalists to follow up on investigation of cases of violence against them and their colleagues, stressing that otherwise they prepare fertile ground for new cases of duress.