Saturday, November 22, 2008


By Lena Nazarian

Institute for War and Peace Reporting
Nov 20 2008

Seventh attack on independent journalist in Armenia this year sparks freedom of speech fears.

Armenia's leading investigative journalist Edik Baghdasarian is in hospital after an unprovoked assault in the street that has caused alarm over the safety of independent reporters in the country.

At around 8 pm on the evening of November 17 in the centre of Yerevan, three assailants attacked Baghdasarian, who is head of Armenia's Association of Investigative Journalists and the editor-in-chief of, a weekly Internet bulletin. While two of them struggled with him, the third beat him on the head. They tore his clothes and snatched his camera.

An ambulance and one policeman arrived on the scene. Baghdasarian was taken to hospital where he was diagnosed with severe concussion.

Baghdasarian is well-known in Armenia and has been awarded international prizes for ceaselessly investigating official abuses of power and corruption. His most recent article on is about an iron-ore mine in the town of Hrazdan, although there has been no suggestion that this report, rather than any other, was the reason
for the assault.

Observers of the Armenian media say his beating is part of a worrying trend this year in which seven reporters have been attacked but none of the assailants have so far been brought to justice.

Gagik Shamshian, a photo-correspondent with the opposition newspaper Fourth Estate, is one of them and blames the authorities for not investigating the attack on him properly. "If they wanted to they could have identified the culprits long ago," he said.

Shamshian said he was attacked and had his mobile phone and dictaphone stolen when a Mercedes blocked his path and he was forced to the ground. He escaped by running out into the traffic.

Shamshian said that he identified amongst his attackers three men about whom he had written an article in his newspaper but, despite his testimony to the police, no one has so far been charged with the assault on him.

In October, the editor-in-chief of the opposition newspaper Haikakan Zhamanak, Lusine Barseghian, was beaten on the head by two men.

Passers-by rushed to get her to hospital.

Barseghian said that she had recognised one of her attackers and had given the police such detailed information that it should be easy to locate the men responsible but no one had been arrested so far.

In the summer, the acting head of the local office of Radio Liberty's Armenian service, Hratch Melkumian, was also punched, kicked and abused in the middle of Yerevan by unknown assailants. Again no arrests have been made.

"These incidents just don't get solved in Armenia," said Astghik Bedevian, a Radio Liberty correspondent in Yerevan. "If just one of them had been punished, the initiators of these beatings wouldn't be so brazen and arrogant."

The Yerevan police and prosecutor's office defend their record on the journalists' beatings, saying they are still actively investigating the crimes.

The deputy police chief of Yerevan, Ashot Mirijanian, told reporters his police force attached great importance to finding Baghdasarian's assailants. Asked by one journalist why violent attacks against policemen nearly always resulted in successful prosecutions, while attacks on journalists did not, Mirijanian replied, "Because a policeman fights to the end and journalists usually run away."

Sona Truzian, press secretary for the prosecutor's office conceded, "Possibly the public concerns in this regard are partially justified. We want to believe that soon there will be more discernible results."

Top Armenian officials have strongly condemned the attack on Baghdasarian.

On November 18, Armenian president Serzh Sarkisian gave instructions for the crime to be solved as quickly as possible. Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian visited the journalist in hospital. He told reporters, "We are worried by this turn of events."

However, human rights ombudsman Armen Harutiunian said he was worried about the lack of progress in these cases.

"For years we have been witnesses to violence against journalists as a result of which I have frequently called on the law enforcement agencies to be more consistent in identifying the culprits, but these crimes have not yet been solved," said Harutiunian. "These incidents are part of a very dangerous trend and are a serious threat to freedom of speech in our country.

"I am sure that if there is the political will, all other problems can be solved."

A group of journalistic organisations signed a joint letter condemning the attack on Baghdasarian, warning that those responsible for attacking journalists appear to immune from prosecution. "This impunity unties the hands of those who want to suppress freedom of speech," said the letter.

A number of journalists, students and non-governmental activists also staged an act of protest, marching with placards from the general prosecutor's office to the presidential residence.

Miklos Haraszti, representative for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, wrote a public letter to Armenian foreign minister Eduard Nalbandian about the attack on Baghdasarian, reminding him of other assaults on journalists in Armenia.

"Violence against a journalist is not a 'normal' crime because it is a blow against a basic institution of democracy, freedom of speech," said Haraszti's letter.

Lena Nazaryan is a correspondent with and a participant in IWPR's Armenian-Azerbajiani Neighbours project. IWPR Armenia editor Seda Muradian also contributed to this article.

No comments:

Post a Comment