Another Attack On Journalists Reported In Armenia

Another Attack On Journalists Reported In Armenia
By Armine Geghamian 14/10/2004 10:44

Radio Free Europe, Czech republic
Oct 14 2004

The editor of an independent newspaper in southeastern Armenia said on
Wednesday that a group of local loyalists of Prime Minister Andranik
Markarian attacked him and ransacked his office after it ran articles
questioning government policies.

Samvel Aleksanian of the “Syuniats Yerkir” weekly based in Kapan,
the administrative center of the Syunik region, said the attack was
carried out in the morning by three young men led by the head of the
local branch of Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK). He claimed that
they hit and injured him with wooden clubs. “Right after that they
told me that the newspaper must not write anything about the country’s
prime minister and the Syunik governor anymore,” Aleksanian told RFE/RL
from Kapan. “Otherwise, they said, the newspaper offices and car would
be burned down. As they left they shouted more threats and insults.

“I replied that the newspaper will now be more consistent in its
work. From now on, we will provide an even better coverage of issues
which they don’t want to be highlighted.”

The editor appealed to President Robert Kocharian and Armenian
law-enforcement agencies to investigate the incident. “If they
don’t punish those thugs we will be forced to take measures for
self-defense,” he said

An officer at the Syunik police headquarters told RFE/RL that they
have already launched an investigation. According to Aleksanian, the
police found and returned to the newspaper a mobile phone stolen by
the attackers. It was not clear if anyone was detained or questioned
in the process, however.

In Yerevan, meanwhile, Markarian said he is not aware of the reported
incident. “I hear about that for the first time. I will try to
clear things up,” he said. “In any case, I consider the beating of
journalists inadmissible.”

At issue, according to Kapan journalists, is an article in a September
issue of “Syuniats Yerkir” that questioned government motives for the
recent closure of two regional secondary schools as part of massive
nationwide lay-offs of teachers.

“We directed that question to the country’s prime minister and
education minister,” Aleksanian said. He added that the local
authorities responded on September 28 by evicting the newspaper staff
from offices which they rented in the Kapan building that houses the
regional administration. But the paper again addressed the issue in
its next edition, he said.

Syunik’s governor, Surik Khachatrian, has close ties with the HHK. He
was based in the regional town of Goris before his appointment by
the central government last March. Goris and the surrounding villages
have long been considered a de facto fiefdom of Khachatrian and his
extended family.

The “Syuniats Yerkir” editor said Khachatrian, better known with his
“Liska” nickname, and other regional officials are extremely intolerant
of dissent. “They think that there must be no other opinion in the
Syunik region,” he said. “You are not supposed to question anything.”

The reported violence in Kapan is the latest in a series of attacks
on Armenian journalists which have raised domestic and international
concerns about the state of press freedom in Armenia. It came just
two days after a court in another part of the country sentenced to
six months a man who reportedly beat up a photojournalist for taking
pictures of expensive houses belonging to senior government officials.