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Armenian Journalists Assaulted for Doing their Jobs

Lack of Effective Investigations Undermines Media Freedom

By Anahit Chilingaryan

On the evening of September 28, Narine Avetisyan, editor-in-chief of a regional television station, got a call about workers laying asphalt on a road in the pouring rain in Vanadzor, Armenia’s third largest city. She went to investigate.

According to Avetisyan, soon after she arrived and started asking questions, the head of the construction company told her to go away, that the road work was none of her business. She said that when she didn’t leave, the director and several colleagues threw her to the ground, twisted her arms behind her back, and dragged her along the ground, demanding her phone. She said they seized her phone and deleted the video of the construction site. In response to a Human Rights Watch query, the director denied the charges.

Avetisyan filed a police complaint that evening. Investigators initiated a criminal investigation and brought charges against the company director for hindering the work of a journalist. But according to Avetisyan, the charges say nothing about her being physically attacked by the director and other workers.

Attacks on journalists are not uncommon in Armenia, and highlight the vulnerability of those who work in the media here.

In another incident a week later, Paylak Fahradyan, a journalist for the online news site, was investigating a dispute involving a local hospital in the village of Shatin. Fahradyan said that when he began asking the doctor at the center questions about corruption allegations, the doctor and a hospital nurse tried to grab his camera. When he refused to delete his footage, they forced him into a room in the hospital, threatening to hold him until he did so. Fahradyan managed to leave the room about 10 minutes later, after he called the police. Investigators initiated a criminal case, but no charges have been brought so far. Human Rights Watch’s queries to the hospital staffers  received no response.

Outside observers have raised concerns about conditions for journalists in Armenia. During a recent visit to the country, Harlem Désir, the representative on freedom of the media for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), expressed concerns about attacks on journalists. He emphasized the need for safe working conditions, especially while covering public events or topics of public interest.

These cases are two of many attacks on journalists in Armenia who are just trying to do their job. The authorities need to ensure that media workers can do their work without fear of assault; effective, impartial investigations by Armenian authorities of these and similar incidents would be a good start.

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