Thursday, Former Armenian Police Chief Charged Over Threats To RFE/RL Reporters Armenia - Armenian Police Chief Vladimir Gasparian meets with police officers in Kotayk region,23Feb,2017 Former Armenian Police Chief Vladimir Gasparian has been indicted for threatening two RFE/RL Armenian Service journalists and obstructing their work on a report about government plans to dismantle private houses illegally constructed near Lake Sevan. Gasparian on August 8 drove his vehicle in the direction of the reporters, almost running over them, after seeing that they were filming his luxury house located in the lakeside area. He threatened them with violence and, using offensive language, forced them to erase their footage. RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported the incident to the police, which Gasparian headed for seven years before being dismissed after the change of the country’s government in May 2018. "We demand that police investigate the incident, and that Mr. Gasparian be held accountable for endangering journalists who were simply doing their jobs," RFE/RL's acting President Daisy Sindelar said in a statement. Armenia’s Investigative Committee said on Thursday that Gasparian has been formally charged with “obstruction of legitimate professional activities of journalists,” a crime punishable by fines and up to year one of corrective labor. In a statement, the law-enforcement agency said the former police chief has signed a written pledge not to leave the country pending investigation. Gasparian denied any wrongdoing following the incident. He did not immediately react to the indictment. Armenia - A view of Lake Sevan, July 24, 2018. The Investigative Committee announced on September 2 that it has launched a separate inquiry into the legality of Gasparian’s villa and other lakeside properties making up a vast compound. It said some of the properties may have been built and officially registered in violation of Armenian laws strictly regulating construction in the environmentally sensitive area. Newly appointed Environment Minister Romanos Petrosian said last month that authorities will soon start dismantling illegal constructions near Lake Sevan. Several other former high-ranking officials also reportedly own houses located there. NGO Activists Hit Back At Pashinian • Ruzanna Stepanian Armenia -- Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (C) talks to deputies from hs My Step bloc during a parliament session, Yerevan, . Representatives of several civic groups deplored on Thursday Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s angry reaction to their criticism of the choice of three new members of Armenia’s Constitutional Court confirmed by the parliament. The Western-funded non-governmental organizations voiced earlier this week serious concerns over two of those justices nominated by Pashinian’s government and a national convention of judges, saying that they were linked to Armenia’s former leadership. One of them, Yervand Khundkarian, has headed the Court of Cassation for the last two years while the other, Edgar Shatirian, taught law at a university. Some civic activists claim that their election on Tuesday by the Armenian parliament controlled by the ruling My Step bloc constituted a betrayal of the goals of the 2018 “Velvet Revolution” that brought Pashinian to power. The prime minister blasted the critics when he spoke in the National Assembly on Wednesday. He charged that they are primarily concerned with their own parochial interests, rather than the rule of law. He also said they cannot act like “ardent defenders of the revolution’s values” because they played no part in the popular uprising in the first place. Daniel Ioannisian of the Union of Informed Citizens challenged Pashinian to name names instead of “talking abstractly about everyone.” Ioannisian said he and other disgruntled activists have a moral right to speak up on the matter because of their history of human rights advocacy in the country. Besides, he said, many of Pashinian’s own loyalists used to work for the former regime or did not participate in the revolution for other reasons. “Even if some group wanted to see some people join the Constitutional Court, what’s wrong with that?” said Levon Barseghian, the head of the Gyumri-based Asparez Journalists’ Club. Barseghian insisted that Pashinian’s administration made “bad decisions” regarding the new Constitutional Court members. “The constitutional crisis in the country has not been solved,” he said. “The crisis was not about replacing three judges. At issue are radical reforms, including a reform of the Constitutional Court.” For more than a year, Pashinian was locked in a standoff with seven of the nine Constitutional Court judges installed before the revolution. He pressured them to resign, accusing them of maintaining close ties to the country’s “corrupt” former rulers and impeding his judicial reforms. Three of those judges were controversially ousted as a result of constitutional amendments enacted by the current authorities in June. The amendments also required Hrayr Tovmasian to quit as court chairman but remain a judge. Tovmasian and the ousted judges refused to step down, saying that their removal is illegal and politically motivated. They appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to have them reinstated. Parliament Majority Stands By Embattled Minister • Naira Nalbandian Armenia -- Supporters of the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party demand Education Minister Arayik Harutiunian's resignation, Yerevan, . The Armenian parliament voted down on Thursday an opposition motion to seek Education Minister Arayik Harutiunian’s dismissal after a heated debate that sparked a fresh war of words between the ruling political team and the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK). Harutiunian has faced in recent weeks small-scale street protests staged by various extra-parliamentary opposition groups and activists. They are particularly unhappy with new guidelines for the teaching of Armenian history, literature and other subjects in schools, which were issued by his ministry this summer. The protesters claim that those guidelines are at odds at with traditional Armenian values. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports denies this and cites the need to update school curricula. Harutiunian defended his policies at a news conference on Wednesday. He said that the ministry has been constructively discussing the guidelines with teachers across the country and has received more than 2,000 proposals from them. He also claimed that some veteran academics oppose the declared reforms because they have been stripped of lavish funding that had been provided to them by Armenia’s former government. Armenia -- Education Minister Arayik Harutyunian at a news conference, Yerevan, The two opposition groups represented in the parliament added their voice to the calls for Harutiunian’s resignation. They forced later on Wednesday a parliament debate on their proposal to petition Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian to sack the minister and his longtime political ally. The National Assembly rejected the motion by 84 votes to 35. Deputies from Pashinian’s My Step bloc, which controls 88 parliament seats, voiced strong support for the embattled minister during the debate. Their colleagues representing the opposition Bright Armenia Party (LHK) accused Harutiunian of mismanaging the country’s education system. One of them, Gevorg Gorgisian, alleged that the current authorities are bullying and firing schoolteachers for political reasons. Harutiunian, who is a senior member of My Step, strongly denied that. “For the past 30 years our teachers have never been as free as they are now,” declared the 41-year-old former university lecturer. Harutiunian went on to trade insults with lawmakers from the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), who charged that he promoted “perversion” by meeting with a transgender activist in his office in 2018. He hit back by seemingly pointing to BHK leader Gagik Tsarukian’s past criminal record. Armenia -- Prosperous Armena Party leader Gagik Tsarukian speaks to journalists in parliament, Yerevan, June 16, 2020. A Soviet Armenian court had convicted Tsarukian of involvement in a 1979 gang rape of two women outside Yerevan and sentenced him to 7 years in prison. Newly independent Armenia’s Court of Cassation overturned the guilty verdict in the mid-1990s. The BHK’s parliamentary group condemned Harutiunian and boycotted the government’s ensuing question-and-answer session in the National Assembly in protest. Pashinian endorsed Harutiunian’s thinly veiled attack on Tsarukian the following morning. “It’s hard to disagree with the minister,” he wrote on Facebook. Tsarukian responded by calling for a constitutional amendment that would bar “individuals with serious mental problems” from holding high-level government posts. Tsarukian, who is also a wealthy businessman, was stripped of his parliamentary immunity from prosecution and charged with vote buying in June. He strongly denies the accusation, saying that Pashinian ordered it in response to his calls for the government’s resignation. Reprinted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL Copyright (c) 2020 Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Inc. 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.