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Armenian Journalists Face Election Violence, Harassment

Screenshot from a video of a conflict between journalists and election officials in Yerevan on January 10

Screenshot from a video of a conflict between journalists and election officials in Yerevan on January 10

During a tense parliamentary by-election in Armenia on Sunday, January 10, reporters with RFE/RL’s Armenian service suffered three attacks and attempts to prevent them from covering the process. The incidents all occurred in constituency N10, in a central district in Yerevan, where rival candidates included Nikol Pashinian, an opposition member and newspaper editor currently in jail. Pashinian is in prison awaiting trial and a possible eight-year sentence on charges of organizing violent clashes in Yerevan following Armenia's February 2008 presidential election.

In precinct 10/19, RFE/RL correspondent Anush Martirosian was one of several journalists whom police sought to bar from the premises on instructions from Gagik Baghdasarian, precinct chairman, to prevent the media from covering the balloting. Scuffles ensued, and unknown persons tried to break Martirosian's microphone. They also hit Gagik Shamshian, a free-lance photographer working for two opposition daily newspapers.

In a practice repeated at other polling places, Baghdasarian also demanded that Martirosian and several other journalists show their passports before entering the polling place, despite the absence of any such requirement in Armenia’s electoral code. The journalists produced their passports but were still denied entry by Baghdasarian, who claimed that their presence would obstruct the voting process.

Tatev Ohanian, a spokeswoman for the Central Election Commission, later told RFE/RL that such actions were against the law.

In a third incident, RFE/RL video journalist Karine Simonian was confronted by a group of young men while trying to report from Pashinian's campaign headquarters. The men blocked her access to the premises and prevented her from making the recording. One of them threatened to break her video camera and was sufficiently aggressive as to cause Simonian to stop reporting.

On Monday, the Armenian General prosecutor's office asked police to investigate the attacks, and contacted Martirosian to give evidence about the incident that involved her.

Days after Armenia's controversial February 2008 presidential election, violence between opposition protesters and security forces erupted on March 1, killing 10 and resulting in a three-week state of emergency in Yerevan and a government ban on independent reporting.