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Armenian Media Demand Probe Of Ex-Police Chief Obstructing Work Of RFE/RL Reporters

Vladimir Gasparian was chief of police until a change of government in May 2018.
Vladimir Gasparian was chief of police until a change of government in May 2018.

Several leading Armenian media organizations have called for a "serious investigation" into an incident in which former police chief Vladimir Gasparian threatened two RFE/RL Armenian Service journalists and obstructed their work on a report about government plans to demolish private houses illegally constructed near Lake Sevan.

In a joint statement issued on August 10, the Committee To Protect Freedom of Expression, the Yerevan Press Club, the Asparez journalists' club, and seven other organizations stressed that Gasparian "must be held accountable in accordance with the law."

"During his time in office as chief of police, Vladimir Gasparian stood out through his arrogant attitude toward journalists and in some cases through his cruelty," the statement said.

It mentioned the 2015 and 2016 protests in Armenia's capital, Yerevan, "when more than 40 journalists and cameramen were targeted by police and were subjected to physical violence and illegal persecution."

"All this went unpunished, and, apparently, that is the reason why today the former police chief continues to display indecent behavior toward journalists," the statement said.

Gasparian, who served as Armenia's police chief for seven years before being dismissed after the change of government in May 2018, on August 8 drove his vehicle in the direction of the two Azatutyun reporters, almost running them over, after seeing that they were filming in the lakeside area where his house is presumably located.

Gasparian threatened the reporters, using phrases like "I'll shoot you" and "I'll slaughter you," and, using offensive language, he also demanded that the reporters not show his house in their report.

"We are horrified at this attack on our Armenian Service reporters, by no less than a former chief of police," RFE/RL acting President Daisy Sindelar said.

"The reporters were covering a story of significant public interest when Mr. Gasparian nearly struck them with his vehicle, threatened to kill them, and forced them to erase their footage," Sindelar said.

"We demand that police investigate the incident, and that Mr. Gasparian be held accountable for endangering journalists who were simply doing their jobs," she added.

After RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported the incident, police on August 9 formally opened a criminal investigation, which is currently under way.

If found guilty, Gasparian risks a prison sentence from three to seven years in prison.

The reporters were working on a follow-up story after newly appointed Environment Minister Romanos Petrosian said this week that the authorities will formally start the process of demolishing illegal constructions near Lake Sevan on August 10.

According to media reports, a number of houses belonging to several former high-ranking officials, including Gasparian, are affected by the decision.

Earlier this week Petrosian ordered the demolishing of a lakeside resort where a party, with a current pro-government lawmaker in attendance, had been held in breach of coronavirus safety rules set by the authorities.

Petrosian then turned to other buildings around the lake, which environmentalists say is endangered by overuse.

"Here we have no legal issues, as there are no ownership rights pertaining to these territories, consequently there are no prospects of legal actions [against the government]," the minister said.

Initially, 130 business facilities will be affected, but a total of 3,800 buildings, including houses, are eventually to be demolished.

Environmentalists argue that illegal constructions -- both business facilities and private houses -- greatly damage the lake's ecosystem, resulting in its usually blue water turning green in some places during the summer in recent years.

The minister said the demolition was going to be a "long process" and that only the first steps were being taken now, but formally the process will start on August 10.

An environmental plan for Lake Sevan, which lies at 1,900 meters above sea level, aims to raise its level, and the buildings that are to be demolished lie below the level to which it is to be raised.

Raising the level of the lake, the largest body of fresh water in Armenia, has been the stated goal of consecutive governments.