Rights activists in Armenia are accusing state television of mocking female inmates during a TV program.
To mark International Women's Day in Armenia on March 8, a young female journalist from Armenian Public Television went to the Abovian prison outside of the capital, Yerevan, to speak with some women convicts for the channel's Fine Evening (Lav Yereko) show.
The interviews with seven prisoners was full of ridiculous questions that included asking them if there were any "cute" prison guards working at the institution. Audio of giggling and guffawing was added to the women's responses in a manner that many deemed degrading.
Armenian Public Television has not yet formally responded to the criticism.
Zaruhi Hovannisian, who works with a public prison-monitoring group in Armenia, said the show raised some important questions for the Justice Ministry that should be answered.
“Were these women aware of how their words would later be edited [for the report] and if a laugh track would be added?" she asks. "Secondly, did these women have the opportunity to choose whether to [participate] or did the prison administration itself choose the women who answered the reporter’s questions?"
The controversial show also raised eyebrows among media outlets because many Armenian journalists have great difficulty gaining access to prisons for their reports.
Some have waited for months before their requests were rejected for various reasons.
“It turns out that access to prisons for investigative journalists is banned but for those who film for entertainment purposes it is not,” Grisha Balasanian, a journalist for Hetq magazine, told RFE/RL.
Balasanian says he has been waiting for one year to get permission to film at the prison hospital, adding that he has made personal requests to the chief of the hospital and to Justice Minister Davit Harutiunian.
"During the year I have periodically received [official prison] rejections with the explanation that they are too busy,” Balasanian says.
The daily newspaper Hraparak encountered the same attitude from the country's penitentiary officials after its request to film inside a prison located in a Yerevan suburb to view prison cells, the library, and the canteen was rejected.
“We make a request to visit some convict at some penitentiary and get a cynical reply that they cannot let a journalist in because the [administration is] busy,” Hraparak editor Armine Ohanian said, adding that Armenia's ombudsman officially confirmed to her that the refusal was unlawful.
The penitentiary department, which operates under the Justice Ministry, has responded to requests for clarifying why state television was allowed access to the prison when other media outlets were denied entry.