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Armenia - Photojournalist Severely Beaten

Gagik Shamshian, after being attacked

Gagik Shamshian, after being attacked

Gagik Shamshian, a well-known Armenian photojournalist, was severely beaten and hospitalized today in an incident that has been strongly condemned by the country’s human rights ombudsman and leading media watchdogs.

Shamshian suffered severe injuries to his genitals in a dispute with security guards at Yerevan’s Bryusov State Linguistic University. The guards refused to let Shamshian and several other journalists enter the building.

The journalists wanted to interview its rector, Suren Zolian, on corruption allegations.

Shamshian was knocked to the ground and kicked in the abdomen and groin by two guards after defying their orders to leave the building.

"I don’t deny swearing at them and kicking them in self-defense," Shamshian said afterward.

Shamshian took refuge in the nearby offices of RFE/RL’s Yerevan Bureau. He was taken by ambulance to the Nairi Medical Center.

Armenian police say an investigation is under way.

In a statement, police said Shamshian had been assaulted by Karen Mirijanian, the university's chief security guard, who was detained and questioned.

Shamshian, who mainly works for two pro-opposition newspapers, was visited in the hospital by Ombudsman Armen Harutiunian.

"He was lucky not to have suffered more serious injuries because the beating was really brutal," Harutiunian told RFE/RL.

Harutiunian condemned the beating as a further manifestation of "intolerance and an atmosphere of fear" reigning in Armenia.

In a separate written statement, Harutiunian presented the incident as the latest in a series of violent attacks on Armenian journalists in the past few years. He said none of the perpetrators has been identified or prosecuted.

A similar statement was also issued by the Yerevan Press Club, the Committee to Protect Freedom of Speech, and four other Armenian civic groups.

(Story and photos by Hasmik Smbatyan)