By Hasmik Smbatian and Lilit Harutiunian
Gagik Shamshian, a well-known Armenian photojournalist, was beaten up and hospitalized on Friday in an attack strongly condemned by the country’s human rights ombudsman and leading media watchdogs.
Shamshian suffered severe injuries to his genitals in an angry dispute with security guards at Yerevan’s Bryusov State Linguistic University who refused to let him and several other journalists enter the building. The journalists wanted to interview its rector, Suren Zolian, on corruption allegations against professors of state-run universities.
Shamshian was toppled and kicked in the abdomen and crotch by two guards after defying their orders to leave the building. “I don’t deny swearing at them and kicking them in self-defense,” he said afterwards.
The photographer complained of severe pain in the lower abdomen area and bled heavily after taking refuge in the nearby office of RFE/RL’s Yerevan bureau. An ambulance arrived to take to him to the Nairi Medical Center 40 minutes after being called by bureau personnel.
The Armenian police were also immediately informed about the incident. The police said in a statement later in the day that Shamshian was assaulted by Karen Mirijanian, the Bryusov University’s chief security guard. Mirijanian was detained and questioned at the police department of Yerevan’s central administrative district, the statement said. “An investigation is underway,” it added without elaboration.
Shamshian, who mainly works for two pro-opposition newspapers and has repeatedly been manhandled by the police in the past, was visited in the hospital by Ombudsman Armen Harutiunian. “He was lucky not to have suffered more serious injuries because the beating was really brutal,” Harutiunian told RFE/RL. He condemned the beating as a further manifestation of “intolerance and an atmosphere of fear” reigning in Armenia.
In a separate written statement, Harutiunian presented the incident as the latest in a series of violent attacks on Armenian journalists reported in the past few years. He said none of their masterminds and perpetrators has been identified and prosecuted so far.
A similar statement was also issued by the Yerevan Press Club, the Committee to Protect Freedom of Speech and four other Armenian civic groups. “We condemn that violent act and demand that the individuals who carried out it be punished,” they said.
The Bryusov University did not comment on the incident on Friday. Its rector, Suren Zolian, refused to meet the head of the Committee to Protect Freedom of Speech, Ashot Melikian, citing busyness.
(RFE/RL photo: Ambulance doctors give first medical assistance to Shamshian at the RFE/RL office in Yerevan.)