By Emil Danielyan
The Yerevan office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe added its voice on Tuesday to serious concerns expressed by Armenian media and human rights groups about recent reported attacks on local journalists.
“The OSCE Office in Yerevan is deeply concerned over recent incidents of violence and intimidation against local journalists which have obstructed their professional duties and infringed upon the freedom of expression,” it said in a statement.
“The Office considers it extremely important for these cases to be properly investigated and calls for the perpetrators to be punished in full accordance with the law. Law-enforcement bodies are urged to undertake prompt measures to ensure the safety of media professionals in order to promote freedom of expression in the country,” added the statement.
The statement seems to have been prompted by the reported September 6 beating of Hovannes Galajian, editor of the opposition-linked “Iravunk” newspaper, by two unknown men. The Armenian police have launched a criminal investigation into the incident but have not charged anyone yet. Galajian and his staff have attributed the violence to their hard-hitting coverage of the Armenian government and its loyalists.
The OSCE office, which monitors the state of press freedom in Armenia, also cited the saga of Gagik Shamshian, a freelance journalist who claims to have been harassed by a local government chief allegedly angered by his news reporting. The police controversially launched criminal proceedings against Shamshian last month after he accused the official’s brother of attacking him with a large group of other men in June.
Armenian media associations have also denounced as politically motivated the prosecution of Arman Babajanian, the editor of the independent “Zhamanak Yerevan” newspaper who was convicted of illegally avoiding military service and sentenced to four years in prison by a Yerevan court last Friday. While admitting to draft dodging, Babajanian claimed that he was jailed because of his strong opposition to Armenia’s leadership.
The prison sentence is quite harsh by Armenian standards. Young Armenian men found guilty of draft evasion have usually been jailed for between two and three years.
“Given the history of politicized prosecution of journalists in Armenia, we are skeptical about the appropriateness of this sentence,” the executive director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Joel Simon, said in a Monday statement that cited RFE/RL’s coverage of Babajanian’s arrest and trial.
“Physical assaults against journalists [in Armenia] also continue, and CPJ research shows that officials do little to apprehend and prosecute the perpetrators,” the statement said.
(Photolur photo: Vladirimir Pryakhin, head of the OSCE office in Yerevan.)