Armenian media organizations have condemned authorities for removing journalists from a room reserved for the press in the National Assembly during brawls that took place among deputies this week.
Current regulations say media representatives can only follow sessions from a room reserved for the press overlooking the chamber and enclosed by glass windows.
Security guards entered the room and forced journalists to stop recording and leave when brawls broke out between pro-government and opposition lawmakers during sessions on August 24 and 25.
Journalists and media organizations believe that such actions violate their rights and constitute an obstruction of the work of media, which is a criminal offense under Armenian law.
Gevorg Tosunian, a reporter with the Civilnet news website, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that security guards used force to remove the website’s journalists from the room during the latest brawl even though Parliament Speaker Alen Simonian had not announced a break, meaning that the session was still in progress.
“They [security guards] gave no reasons for their actions,” Tosunian said. Journalists with other news outlets, including RFE/RL's Armenian Service, were also asked to leave the room.
Tosunian said the goal of the National Assembly leadership was probably to prevent the spread of video recordings of incidents inside the chamber. But he said only by seeing such scenes can the public know what is actually happening in the legislature.
"This is our work environment. We are protected by the Law on Mass Media, just as we are protected by the Criminal Code, which clearly states that obstructing a journalist’s activities is already a crime," he said.
Media organizations condemned the incidents, calling for an end to what they described as illegal restrictions and the harassment of journalists.
Daniel Ioannisian, a representative of the Union of Informed Citizens, said the organization has appealed to the Prosecutor-General’s Office and will seek a criminal case.
Videos of the brawls were disseminated by some former journalists who now serve as deputies, he said.
"We have all seen all the details of all these incidents through live videos, videos made by deputies. In fact, the public has seen it, but in the meantime the legal professional activities of journalists have been hindered," Ioannisian said.
Simonian acknowledged during a news briefing on August 25 that journalists should not have been removed from the balconies.