Armenia – 2004 Annual report

Reporters without borders, France
May 3 2004

Armenia – 2004 Annual report


Area : 29,800
Population : 3,072,000.
Language : Armenian, Russian
Type of state : republic
Head of state : Robert Kocharian.

Armenia – 2004 Annual report

Many violations of press freedom occurred during the reelection of
President Robert Kocharian. A new law on freedom of information was
enacted but a new press law drew strong protests from the media.

President Robert Kocharian was reelected president in 2003 after a vote
(the first since the country joined the Council of Europe in 2001) that
was marred by irregularities and sharply criticised by observers from
the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). For the
first time in the history of independent Armenia, a TV debate between
two of the candidates was shown live. But coverage of the two-stage
voting on 19 February and 5 March was obstructed in many places and
independent media journalists were harassed, set upon and physically
State-run media did not give balanced coverage to all candidates and
openly backed Kocharian, while most independent media supported other
candidates. The two independent TV stations, A1+ and Noyan Tapan, whose
operating licences were cancelled in 2002 by the National Broadcasting
Commission, were unable to broadcast. The commission is not independent
and does not meet Council of Europe standards because all its members
are appointed by the president.
Conflicting measures were passed by parliament. A freedom of
information law was adopted on 23 September after two years of work
with Council of Europe experts and national and international NGOs. It
spelled out the rights of journalists and citizens to information and
required public bodies to supply it. But a few days later, parliament
approved on first reading a controversial press law that provoked sharp
reaction from the media, who said they would suggest detailed
improvements to it. The new criminal code that came into force on 1
August, included prison terms of up to three years for defamation.

New information on a journalist killed in 2002

The trial of 13 people accused of killing Tigran Naghdalian, head of
the council of public TV and radio, in Yerevan on 28 December 2002,
opened on 29 July 2003. They included businessman Armen Sarkisian, who
is the brother of two former prime ministers (opposed to Kocharian) –
Aram Sarkisian and Vazgen Sarkisian, who was killed in a commando
attack on the parliament building in October 1999. The public
prosecutor suspected Armen, who had been held since 15 March, of
ordering the murder because he believed the journalist was involved in
the attack that killed his brother. The other brother, Aram, charged
that Armen’s trial was a bid to discredit the opposition in the run-up
to the parliamentary and presidential elections. Naghdalian, a major
supporter of the president and a key figure at the TV station since
1998, was shot dead in front of his parents’ home by a mystery gunman.
The authorities immediately called the murder political because the
journalist had often criticised the opposition in a current affairs
programme he presented.

Five journalists physically attacked

During the first round of the presidential election on 19 February
2003, an official at the Nar-Dos School polling station 356/16 in
Yerevan seized the camera and injured the hand of freelance journalist
Susanna Pogosian, who was there with reporter Gideon Lichfield of the
British weekly The Economist.
The same day, Goar Verziryan, of the opposition National Democratic
Union’s weekly paper Aizhm, was thrown against a wall at the
Shirvanzade School polling station in Yerevan by people who seized a
tape recording she was making about defects in the voting procedure.
Others hit two journalists from the TV station Shant and took away
their videotapes as they were filming a man putting several voting
slips into a ballot box.
Mher Galechian, of the twice-weekly opposition paper Chorrord
Ishxanutiun, was beaten up on 29 April by two men who came to the
paper’s offices in Yerevan. He was hospitalised with head injuries and
an investigation was launched. The men had come to the offices three
days earlier to complain about a 25 April article that accused Karlos
Petrosian, head of the state security service, of building himself a
villa in shady circumstances. The day of the attack, the paper had
printed an article reporting the earlier visit.
Gayaneh Mukoyan (editor) and Rafael Hovakimyan (managing editor) of the
weekly Or, were attacked in front of Mukoyan’s home by four thugs who
boxed in their car, said they were police, ordered them to get out and
then hit them. Ms Mukoyan said the attack was probably linked to
articles the previous month about organised crime.

New information about a journalist attacked in 2002

Investigative journalist Mark Grigorian, former correspondent in
Armenia for Reporters Without Borders and deputy head of the Caucasus
Media Institute, received a letter from the prosecutor-general’s office
in late February 2003 saying the case file on a grenade attack that
seriously wounded him in a street of the capital on 22 October 2002 had
been closed since no suspect had been found four months after the
attack. Grigorian had blamed the attempt to kill him on people opposed
to his enquiry into the 27 October 1999 commando attack on parliament,
in which eight people were killed.

A journalist threatened

Freelance journalist Vahagn Ghukasian announced on 24 January 2003 he
was leaving the country because of police harassment after he found
“definitive proof” that top officials were involved in the October 1999
commando attack on parliament. He later left the country.

Harassment and obstruction

The central elections board refused to accredit any online media during
the two-stage presidential and parliamentary elections in February,
March and May 2003. It had ruled on 22 August 2002 that only media
registered with the justice ministry could be recognised. But since
websites are not legally considered media, online newspapers are not
obliged to register.
Lilit Vardanian, an official of polling station 073/26 in Eshmiadzin
(20 km from Yerevan), refused to allow Karina Asatrian, of the
independent TV station A1+, and her cameraman Robert Kharazian to film
the first round of voting in the presidential election on 19 February.
The journalists were then attacked by people who damaged their camera
and chased them out of the polling station.
Diana Markosian, also of A1+, was stopped the same day by the head of
polling station 0391/17 in Yerevan, Ararat Rshtubi. Police helped him
remove the journalist.
Relay transmission of the Russian station NTV by the firm Paradise was
suspended between 26 February and 17 March, officially for technical
reasons. But opposition activists suspected it was cut off because the
station had shown opposition demonstrations against election
Nane Adjemyan, of the TV station Kentron TV, was victimised in late
February because President Kocharian’s campaign officials did not like
her impartial coverage of the campaign. After she reported on a press
conference by opposition candidate Stepan Dermichian, who highlighted
violations of election rules, the station’s news editor, Nikolaï
Grigorian, asked the journalist to take some time off. When she found
out that one of Kocharian’s election team had earlier called the
station management to complain about her coverage, she resigned on 26
Only two state-run TV cameramen were allowed to film live Kocharian’s
swearing-in for another term as president on 9 April. All other
journalists, pro-government or independent, were forced to cover it
from a TV screen elsewhere in the building.
Parliament amended the criminal code on 18 April to further restrict
press freedom. Articles 135 (defamation) and 136 (insults) now provide
up to three years imprisonment and fines equivalent to between 100 and
200 times a person’s minimum monthly salary (between 750 and 1,500
euros). Article 318 calls for two years in prison and a fine equal to
between 200 and 400 minimum salaries (between 1,500 and 3,000 euros).
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), along
with diplomats, human rights organisations and journalists, sent an
open letter of concern on 19 June to the new spokesman for parliament,
Arthur Baghdasarian, who said on 25 June the code should be amended
because it was unfair that penalties for defaming government officials
and ordinary citizens were different. But no action had been taken by
the end of the year.
Officials of the state telecommunications authority in Alarverdi (Lori
region) cut off broadcasts of the local TV station Ankyun+3 on 20 May
officially because it had not complied with technical requirements and
not broadcast government programmes. The station’s editor, Hrachya
Papinyan, said the cut-off came five days before parliamentary
elections and was for political reasons, since the station had not
supported candidate Hovhannes Qochinyan, brother of the regional
administrator. A week earlier, tax officials began inspecting the
station’s accounts. It was able to resume broadcasting on 21 May.
The National Broadcasting Commission refused once again, on 18 July, to
grant operating licences to the country’s two main independent TV
stations, A1+ and Noyan Tapan, after bids had been received for
frequencies to serve the Yerevan region, on grounds that their
programme proposals were not good enough. The two general-interest
stations, which provide a balanced alternative to pro-government and
state-run stations, have not been able to broadcast since 2 April 2002,
when the commission refused to renew their licences. They had also been
unsuccessful in an earlier round of bidding for seven-year licences.
Police seized a videotape on 30 July from ALM TV cameraman Narek
Martirosyan, who had just filmed them roughing up a woman who had been
demonstrating in front of the presidential palace in Yerevan.
Parliament approved on first reading on 24 September a controversial
new press law, which obliges media to declare their funding sources
(article 13) and limits the shareholding in them of commercial
companies and foreigners and restricts the distribution of foreign
newspapers in the country (article 9).
These clauses were seen by journalists as weapons for the government to
use against media it did not like. The law also curbs press freedom in
time of war, if there is a threat to national security and if a state
of emergency is declared. The new law drew strong reactions from
several journalists’ organisations, which decided to suggest amendments
to the measure.

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freedom throughout the world, as well as the right to inform the public
and to be informed, in accordance with Article 19 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights. Reporters Without Borders has nine
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