Elections are the litmus test for democracy in Armenia.
2012 is an election year and the authorities have promised democratic elections; something that has never happened.
No one really expects this to happen. Everyone knows that elections give rise to increased incidents of violence and restrictions placed on reporters doing their jobs.
It must be noted that certain progress has been registered in comparison to the previous national election. In 2012, seven cases of reporters being hindered from doing their job were reported.
This favorably compares to 18 cases in 2008 during the presidential election. During the 2009 parliamentary elections, 11 such cases were reported.
While the number of cases may have decreased, the form of the violence committed didn’t soften nor did the attitude of the government. Law enforcement continued to let the perpetrators go unpunished.
The mayoral election in Hrazdan on February 12, 2012, preceded the parliamentary elections in Armenia this year. An incident of violence during the election went viral on the internet and caused an uproar.
On the day of the mayoral election, a group called “We Will Not Be Silent” circulated a video on You Tube entitled “Assault Against a Reporter”
The group noted that 5,000 AMD election bribes were being handed out all day from a local property board office and that when a reporter started filming what was taking place those giving the bribes attacked him.
A criminal case was launched and the police requested that witnesses come forward to testify.
While there was no mention of the “We Will Not Be Silent” group on the YouTube “Elections” page, it wasn’t difficult for the police to track them down. Those who downloaded the video assisted the police and provided them with whatever information they had.
Soon afterwards, however, the police came up with a scheme to let the bribe givers and attackers off the hook. The Kotayk Marz Deputy Prosecutor dropped the criminal case and the investigation was stopped in its tracks. (See: Is Hooliganism No Longer a Crime?)
That a case of hooliganism took place is beyond question and the identities of those responsible are known. However, the person who filmed the attack never came forward. But it remains unclear what would have changed had that person indentified himself or herself.
Nevertheless, the pre-investigative body decided not to track down the photographer since the person was affiliated with the “We Will Not Be Silent” group which is amorphous to begin with. It would be like looking for a needle in a haystack.
The Court of Cassation put the finishing touches to the case with its verdict of April 27, 2012. It dealt with potential slander and insult issues and warned reporters that they were taking legal risks by using unverifiable sources.
Even if the news source was republished faithfully it doesn’t mean that the press outlet is freed from accountability and could be sued.
According to RA Civil Code Article 1087, Part 6, if information is being disseminated from a source that isn’t a legal entity, it shouldn’t be used. Otherwise, those circulating the information will be held accountable.
During this year’s parliamentary elections on May 6, seven cases of reporters being prevented from doing their jobs were reported. In four of the cases, criminal proceedings were launched based on Article 164 of the RA Criminal Code – “Hindering reporters from carrying out their professional activities”.
The examination process of the criminal cases clearly shows that the attitude of the authorities hasn’t changed and that members of the press can expect no defense from law enforcement.
The police dropped the criminal case of violence perpetrated on Elina Chilingaryan, a reporter with Radio Liberty, with arguments that reached absurd levels. The reporter was found to have overstepped her professional bounds and her attackers were exonerated of any crime.
The other three cases were registered in the Gyumri election district. If the Chilingaryan case was dropped because the reporter wasn’t wearing her press badge, this failed to save Karen Alekyan, a reporter/cameraman with the Maxinfo news agency.
This case and the two others were joined and sent as one package to the Special Investigative Service (SIS). No one has been charged in the four months that have followed. The SIS has told Hetq that it has failed to come up with any suspects and that the investigation is continuing.
It is unclear where the SIS is looking for suspects. But it is worth noting that in the case of Varazdat Papikyan, a cameraman with Kentron TV who had his video camera snatched from his hands, it was an election proxy for the Prosperous Armenia Party who informed the police.
The proxy told cops that he saw Spartak Ghoukasyan, son of the Gyumri mayor, snatch the camera from Papikyan and escort him out of the polling station.
During and prior to the parliamentary elections other incidents took place that police failed to follow up with criminal proceedings.
Nayira Nalbandyan (GALA TV) – The reporter informed police that on the day before the elections she went to see G. Hovhannisyan, President of Election District Committee #33 with some questions. The official failed to provide the requested information, started to argue and hindered the reporter in her duties.
Nelli Babayan (Aravot newspaper) – When the reporter was filming the long lines of voters waiting at Davtashen Polling Station 5/11, an unidentified person approached and snatched her cell phone. The individual claimed that the reporter had no right to take photos.
Artour Haroutyunyan (mynews.am) – The reporter says that when he attempted to photograph the crowds of voters outside Ararat Polling Station #18/17, he was reprimanded by local election board member Armen Abrahamyan. The reporter claims that Abrahamyan accused him of not being impartial and described his work as “monkey business”.
The above examples show that law enforcement is indifferent when it comes to criminally investigating such incidents even though the identities of those guilty of impeding the work of journalists are known.
Criminal cases are launched purely for “show”.
But law enforcement had to justify its actions in the following case that caused a furor inArmenia’s media community.
Hayk Gevorgyan (Haykakan Zhamanak) – On the morning of February 3, 2012, men in civilian dress took the reporter into custody as he was going to work. Gevorgyan was later arrested and transferred to the Nubarashen Correctional Facility. Law enforcement justified the move by stating that Gevorgyan was being sought as of January 23 for hitting a pedestrian with his car on January 13 and fleeing the scene of the accident.
Police claim that they had contacted Gevorgyan by mail to report to police but that he failed to do so.
Many in the media community and a number of human rights groups called for Gevorgyan’s immediate release and accused law enforcement of fabricating charges against the reporter due to his criticism of Police Chief Vladimir Gasbaryan.
Before a local court was to rule on the pre-trial detention of Gevorgyan, the state prosecutor in the case modified the detention, substituting jail for a promise by Gevorgyan not to flee the city.
On July 3, the Traffic Crimes Division of the RA Police dropped the charges against Gevorgyan, citing a lack of “corpus deliciti”.
The newspaper noted that this was a convenient move by law enforcement to avoid any embarrassment had the case gone to court, given that it would be easily proven that the traffic accident had been fabricated.