By Anna Saghabalian
An independent journalist facing the possibility of imprisonment said Wednesday that his rented apartment in Yerevan has been sealed off by police as part of a controversial criminal investigation stemming from his dispute with an influential local government chief.
Gagik Shamshian, a freelance correspondent and photographer, claimed to have been locked out of his home in the city’s southern Nubarashen suburb since it was searched by police officers last Friday. “They broke the door, went in and found that the furniture is not damaged,” he told RFE/RL. “They took away my passport, tape recorder with cassettes, computer diskettes and back issues of the newspapers ‘Chorrord Ishkhanutyun,’ ‘Aravot’ and ‘168 Zham.’”
“I am scared of returning to my apartment and engaging in my professional activities,” he said.
A top police general, Hovannes Hunanian, confirmed on Monday that that the Nubarashen police opened a criminal case against the journalist on the basis of “complaints” filed by local residents. He said they accuse Shamshian of defrauding and insulting them.
Shamshian rejects the accusations, saying that the case was brought in retaliation for his refusal to retract incriminating testimony against the brother of Nubarashen Mayor Mher Hovannisian who was charged with assaulting the journalist last month. Ruben Hovannisian spent several days in police custody before being released a week ago.
Hovannisian’s lawyer, Robert Grigorian, denied his client’s involvement in the July 12 attack on Shamshian by a large group of men allegedly linked to the head of the local government. “My client did not organize the assault,” said Grigorian. “There is no evidence to support these allegations.”
A spokesman for the Armenian Police Service confirmed that Shamshian’s apartment was search but could not elaborate on accusations that may be formally leveled against him.
According to Shamshian, the most important of those accusations is that he damaged the furniture owned by his landlord. He said he has spent the past few nights in a friend’s apartment and does not know when he will be able to return home.