By Ruzanna Stepanian
A Yerevan lower court on Wednesday passed a guilty verdict on a journalist freelancing for opposition dailies, sentencing him to a suspended 30-month prison term with a two-year probation period.
Gagik Shamshian, a photojournalist contributing to the “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun” and “Aravot” newspapers, was convicted of fraud, embezzlement and waste that the court found he had committed in his professional activities.
The court also ruled to confiscate 200,000 drams (about $580) from Shamshian in favor of a citizen that it found had suffered from the journalist’s wrongdoing.
Criminal proceedings against Shamshian were launched last August shortly after he claimed to have been assaulted by men close to Mher Hovannisian, the mayor of Yerevan’s Nubarashen suburb.
His trial began in January as prosecutors charged him with extorting money from several Nubarashen residents between 1998 and 2004 in return for not writing articles critical of them. They also said he had borrowed cash from other locals and never gave it back.
However, eventually in its verdict the court re-qualified the extortion charges into ‘embezzlement and waste’.
After the publication of the verdict, Shamshian insisted on his innocence, but said he was unlikely to appeal it.
He added the verdict would not put him off and he would continue to work “in the same spirit”, writing critical articles. “I love my profession,” the 36-year-old stringer said. “I will input even greater efforts to provide coverage to any drawbacks in the government system if I find ones, be it the prosecutor’s office, police, the national security service, or municipal authorities. I won’t be afraid.”