21 Affected Journalists and Operators … and No Accused

mamul-pressTen months have passed since the outrageous act of physical violence and massive hindering of lawful professional activities of the journalists covering the protest on Baghramyan Avenue against the rise in the electricity price on 23 June 2015. On that day 24 media workers, including journalists, cameramen and photographers were affected.

Ten days after those incidents, on July 3, proceedings were launched at the Special Investigative Service (SIS) under Article 309 Para 2 (Exceeding official authorities) and Article 164 Para 2 (Hindering lawful professional activities of a journalist), and Article 185 Para 1 (Intentionally destroying or damaging property).

May 3 marks ten months of this criminal case. In answer to the written inquiries of the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression the SIS informed that 21 representatives of the mass media have been interviewed, and 20 have been victimized. However, ridiculously, there is not a single accused person or at least a suspect.

Note that during the first two months this major case was investigated by a single investigator. Only after CPFE’s solicitation did Prosecutor General Gevorg Kostanyan instruct the SIS to set up an investigative group.

The investigative group was set up but there has been no progress in this case. The journalists and operators affected by the June 23 events were last invited to SIS about six months ago to inform about the establishment of the investigative group and to notify them about the conclusions of the forensic examination. So far there has been no confrontation, hence no accused, no suspect.

Most journalists confess that SIS has not invited them for an interview for such a long time that they have even forgotten about this case. The only progress since the setup of the investigative group has been the invitation of two former employees of the new website 1in.am, cameramen Gor Hovhannisyan and Hovsep Hovsepyan to the SIS who had been ignored during the past 9 months and had never been interviewed. The first is a victim, the second has voluntarily refused that status.

The reporters and cameramen involved in this case believe that the investigation is procrastinated intentionally to cover up the case and to have it forgotten. “If there were a wish, it would have been completed now. Now it is no longer actual. Ten months have passed since the events, and even if I am invited for a confrontation, I will not recognize the people who used violence against me and hindered my professional activities,” Nikolay Torosyan, a reporter of Panarmenian.net, told CPFE.

The reporter of the website Lragir.am Tehmineh Yenokyan shares this opinion. According to her, the SIS is trying to “blur” this case through procrastination. “The June 23 videos show clearly who did what. Nevertheless, so far there hasn’t even been a confrontation. On the other hand, my impression is that the media which received compensation for their equipment are not complaining any more. Some media were successfully silenced indeed. I particularly mean 1in.an; its editor Arman Babajanyan had called on the cameramen not to complain, not to show up at the SIS. As a result, we witnessed the same handwriting. Several days ago, in another demonstration the policemen again damaged the equipment of the same media, hindered the professional activities of the cameraman of the same media.”

With regard to this opinion, CPFE talked to the editor of 1in.am Arman Babajanyan who dismissed the journalist’s words: “I couldn’t have urged the cameramen not to show up at the SIS because I discharged them a week after the June 23 events. They did not work for 1in.am starting July. And since they were not my employees, I did not have the right to urge them to do anything.” As to repetitive hindering of the work of the cameramen of 1in.am, breaking their cameras, Arman Babajanyan said the police are loyal to their bad style. “This time we will do everything we can. First, it is necessary to follow up the moral aspect. The chief of police must apologize publicly to the reporter of 1in.am Siranush Papyan for insulting her on April 24. We will apply to court, up to the European Court of Human Rights for the act of hindering the work of the cameramen and breaking the cameras. The police have offered to compensate for the cameras but we have refused. We do not need their gestures of good will,” Arman Babajanyan said.

“The handwriting of the police has changed but not in the way the high-ranking officials say,” the ex-reporter of the website iLur.am, victim Hakob Karapetyan said in an interview with CPFE. “Because they get away with their acts, the representatives of the police have become more relaxed in their actions to the extent that already the chief of police himself may give a personal insult to a reporter…” As to the June 23 case, the reporter says the SIS intends to cover up the case or achieve an incomplete result by way of fading public interest.

Over the past ten months, none of the opinions expressed publicly has held out belief that the investigation will be fair and those guilty will be held responsible. Everyone knows the policemen are not punished for violence. Hence, the most predictable future of this criminal case will be an abated or suspended case, and dismissal of all complaints against that decision in all the three instances of the judiciary. And again, applying to the international organizations will be the only way to fight for justice. However, let’s not hurry and follow the process attentively.

Lilit Hovhannisyan

CPFE Expert