Journalist Attackers Fined By Court

Journalist Attackers Fined By Court
By Karine Kalantarian 11/06/2004 12:39

Radio Free Europe, Czech Rep
June 11 2004

A court in Yerevan convicted Thursday two men of involvement in last
April’s unprecedented attack on journalists covering an opposition
rally but stopped short of imprisoning them, fining each of them
100,000 drams ($182) instead.

Ashot Avetisian and Hrair Harutiunian admitted assaulting journalists
and smashing their cameras and were found guilty of “deliberately
damaging property” belonging to other persons. The light punishment was
demanded by city prosecutors who cited “many mitigating circumstances”
such as the defendants’ confession of their guilt. The trial was
dismissed as a farce by some of the journalists subjected to violence
during the April 5 demonstration held in the Armenian capital by the
opposition National Unity Party (AMK). “For me it’s obvious that they
were simply carrying out orders on that day,” one of those reporters,
Anna Israelian of the “Aravot” daily, told RFE/RL. “I still don’t
have an answer to the question of how strictly those carrying out
orders must be punished.

“The pre-trial investigation and the court did not wish to establish
the complete picture of what happened on that day. They just buried
the case.”

The AMK demonstration was nearly disrupted by about two dozen men
who hurled eggs at the party’s leader Artashes Geghamian and set off
firecrackers. Journalists at the scene filmed the attempted disruption
only to have their video and still cameras smashed by the well-built
thugs. According to eyewitnesses, among them an RFE/RL correspondent,
scores of police officers led by General Hovannes Varian stood nearby
and looked on as the ugly scene unfolded. Their conspicuous refusal
to intervene prompted speculation that the violence was engineered
by the Armenian authorities.

Of all journalists questioned in connection with the case only
Israelian has testified that the two defendants were among the
attackers. The two other journalists, including a cameraman for state
television, said they do not remember the men’s faces.

Avetisian and Harutiunian, for their part, refused to be cross-examined
in the court, asking their lawyer to read out their written pre-trial
testimony. They both denied being hired by anyone to stir up trouble
and claimed to have found themselves at the site of the Geghamian rally
“by chance.”

The announcement of the court verdict followed a brief but extremely
tense trial. The small courtroom was packed with about 30 burly men
who appeared to be the defendants’ friends or acquaintances. Several
of them blocked entrance to the courtroom before the start of the
hearings, preventing journalists from entering it and ignoring their
protests. They did not relent even after being approached by the
court chairman, Zhora Vartanian.

“Step aside and let them go in,” Vartanian told them. “Listen to me,
I am the chairman of this court.”

The journalists were allowed to make their way into the courtroom
only 15 minutes later. But two of them, officially listed as
“victims” in the case, walked out shortly afterward in protest
against the psychological pressure exerted by the attackers’ friends.
Police guards showed up only half-way through the trial.