Is there no progress in the pre-investigation of “Sari Tagh” case?

On January 30, it was six months since the criminal case was filed on the cases of impeding legitimate professional activity of the mass media representatives in Yerevan Sari Tagh and neighboring areas on the night of July 29-30, 2016. We should remind that protests and military actions following the armed attack by the “Sasna Tsrer” grouping on the patrol service regiment (PSR) of the RA Police went along with large-scale violence by the police and protected by it persons against the journalists and cameramen, and impediments of their legitimate professional activity.

According to the data of the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, during the July events 27 journalists and cameramen suffered from the actions by the police, of which 19 underwent physical violence (hey received bodily injuries), and 8 faced various pressures and pursuits.

On July 30, the RA Prosecutor General’s office filed a criminal case in relation to those incidents. For pre-investigation purposes, it was sent to the RA Special investigative service.

The SIS does not proceed with the case and keeps silence

The Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression conducted a short survey among the victim journalists to find out when they met the investigators during the six months, what the progress is in relation to this case. Mariam Grigoryan, journalist from “1in.am” website, was invited for interrogation such a long time ago, that she has even forgotten about being involved in the case.

Marout Vanyan, the cameraman from “Lragir.am” website, would have forgotten about the case if only the pain in the leg did not remind him about it…On that day he got injuries on his legs and shoulders, as well as injuries from the fragments of the used explosives. The investigative bodies contacted him in September, but that was for expertise purposes, to check if the blood on the clothes belongs to him, or not. According to Marout Vanyan, the investigative bodies were operating actively, when the events were fresh; they were creating impression as if they are working operatively. Then, after less than a month, they kept silence.

He was not invited for interrogation, but he had to get intensive treatment. “When I was in hospital, they said everything would be OK after 10 days; six months have passed since those events, but I still see the physiotherapist’, said Marout Vanyan.

Besides undergoing physical violence, persons in civilian clothing broke the cameraman’s two vide-cameras, seized his passport. During the six months neither the video cameras have been reimbursed, nor has the passport been found. The journalist does not even have certificate proving his identity. He turned to the passport desk of the police, but in terms of reply, there is gravy silence: “This is their attitude; they could have responded in some way. Is it difficult to say we are dealing or we are not dealing with your case”, – this is how Marout Vanyan expressed his indignation.

Robert Ananyan, journalist from “A1+”, who last was interrogated on the day of the incidents, stated that irrespective of the available video-footage and the fact that he was working while on air when they used violence against him, neither the police officers who threw explosives in his and his cameraman’s direction, nor the ones who stopped their car and impeded their professional work have been identified. “In the video one can see the car and the persons who impeded our work, and if desired they could have been interrogated and charged. Six months are fully enough for that”, – said Robert Ananyan.

The journalist is going to apply to the European Court. According to him, the experience from previous years shows that in Armenia such cases are not solved, and there are grounds to succeed in the European Court. “For two years, every summer the journalists’ rights are violated in a massive way. It is 2017 now, but the criminals who used violence against journalists in 2015 have not been identified yet. “Best traditions” of the Armenian law enforcement continue: this year as well the same bodies act in the same logics of concealing the case”, – said the journalist.

The slow modus operandi of the law enforcement does not surprise independent photojournalist Gevorg Ghazaryan any longer, who as well received the last notification from SIS three months ago. The journalist even had difficulty remembering what the notification was about: “For sure it was not an invitation for an interrogation. I think they were inviting to familiarize me with the results of expert examination of my colleagues. It is the scenario of investigating the #ElectricYerevan case: charges were brought against several people and stopped there. I have the impression that once again the journalists will be battered and that will be an opportunity to formally send several cases to court”, – stated Gevorg Ghazaryan.

On the day of the incident, persons in civilian clothing went out from among the police cordon and attacked the journalist. They broke one of his cameras and seized the other. The equipment has not been reimbursed so far. “I do not know how they are going to work with the same journalists later. They are burning all the “bridges”. How seriously can one treat police officers when they seize the camera from the journalist’s hands and look at you with an amazed face as if nothing has happened”, – said Gevorg Ghazaryan.

 Other cases of violence against journalists are being overlooked as well

  Another separate criminal case was filed in relation to the events that took place during the period from July 17-19 in the area nearby the PS regiment. Namely, on July 17 in the Freedom Square in the capital, physical violence was used against Arthur Hayrapetyan, journalist from “4news.am” website. On July 18, in Khorenatsi Street a police officer hit Artak Hambardzumyan, journalist from radio “Liberty”. At night of July 21, Gevorg Tosunyan, journalist from “Iravaban.net” media outlet, was beaten up near the branch of “Armeconombank” on Tigran Mets Ave.

Arthur Hayrapetyan, journalist from “4news.am” website, informed CPFE that he last was at the SIS in September: he introduced what had happened to him, filed an application, but received no information after that. He does not even know if he is engaged in the criminal case or not. “Even if they ask me now who beat me up, I cannot remember; so much time has passed that I have even forgotten the face”, – stated Arthur Hayrapetyan.

Artak Hambardzumyan, journalist from radio “Liberty”, very well remembers the face of the person who hit him: at the SIS, together with the investigators he watched the video of the incident where the police officer, who used violence, is clearly visible. The journalist was recognized as a victim in August of 2016. “Everything is clearly visible in the video. Face to face identification should have been arranged, but since the day of being recognized as a victim, the SIS has not contacted me. Taking into consideration what happened to similar incidents, I think this case will not be any different from the previous ones”, – stated Artak Hambardzumyan.

Gevorg Tosunyan, journalist from “Iravaban.net” media outlet, has not lost hope; he expects that the ball will start rolling. “My case is unique in the sense that it is videotaped, and people in the footage should be identified. The experience of the previous cases shows that those who are truly to blame, as a rule they are not punished. I do not exclude that this case might have the same fate, as the political will to solve it is missing”, stated the journalist.

Six months later: only 8 defendants, and none of them is a police officer

In relation to criminal cases filed on the events that took place at night from July 29 to 30, 2016 in Sari Tagh, Yerevan, during the last 6 months, charges have been brought against only 8 persons, of which in relation to 7 (those who impeded professional activity of journalists from radio “Liberty”, “Armenia” TV company and “News.am” website) the pre-investigation of the part separated from the criminal case has been finished and sent to the court with the indictment.

For impeding the legitimate professional activity of Albert Galstyan, cameraman from “Armenia” TV Company, charges were brought against 4 persons (Seyran Karapetyan, Vladimir Mkhitaryan, Davit Sargsyan and Karen Grigoryan) under Article 258(3.1) and Article 164 (1) of the RA Criminal Code. They were sentenced for one year of imprisonment and fined for AMD200000 each.

For impeding the legitimate professional activity of Hovhannes Movsisyan, journalist from radio “Liberty”, and for beating him up one person was found guilty under Article 164(1) of the RA Criminal Code and was fined for AMD200000. In relation to Khoren Grigoryan, employee of “News.am” website, there is no conviction yet; court sessions are still in progress.

It is noteworthy that the 8 defendants are civilian persons. According to the victim journalists, among the case-related detained persons there are no high-rank officials who were giving orders to persons in civilian clothes who used violence and are visible in the video-footages.

In conversation with CPFE, Karlen Aslanyan, journalist from radio “Liberty”, who received blows on his head and neck, stated that punishment supposes responsibility of those who gave the orders and not those who implemented the orders. “It was not like persons in civilian clothes grabbed similar batons on their own initiative and decided to beat up the protesters and journalists. It is clear, that everything was an order issued from “above”. It is also clear why the police were intervening in all that. The case progresses very slowly, as there is no will to solve it; the same scenario as in case of “#ElectricYerevan”, says Karlen Aslanyan.

In this case, we think “the case progresses very slowly” is very mildly said. After official recognition of 21 journalists and cameramen as victims and bringing charges against 8 persons, the pre-investigation of the criminal case has almost stopped. It is proven not only via the survey among the journalists by the CPFE, but SIS official website itself. On its official website this investigative body made its last message about the case three months ago, i.e. October 31, 2016.

In fact, during these months, neither identification has been arranged, nor new suspect or defendants have been identified. Or there have been, but the SIS keeps silence, not providing that information to public.

 

Lilit Hovhannisyan

P.S. By the way, before preparing the article the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression sent a written inquiry to the SIS. After the five-day period, stipulated by the RA law on “Freedom of information”, was over and after receiving no answer, we turned to the SIS press secretary. He promised to look into it and inform when we will receive the reply in writing. His promise remained pending as well. However, the CPFE will be persistent…

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