Facing an uproar from Armenia’s leading press freedom groups and independent media outlets, law-enforcement authorities released on Monday a prominent journalist who was arrested on controversial charges on Friday.
Hayk Gevorgian, a veteran editor and correspondent with the pro-opposition daily “Haykakan Zhamanak,” linked the case with his professional activities as he walked free from Yerevan’s Nubarashen prison early in the afternoon.
Gevorgian was detained for allegedly hitting and injuring another man with a car driven by him on January 13. The Armenian police say he did not help the middle-aged man, Ashot Frangulian, and instead verbally abused him before fleeing the scene.
Frangulian confirmed this version of events in a police video report broadcast by Armenian television over the weekend. Wrapped in a blanket, he said he has still not recovered from the injuries despite spending several days in a Yerevan hospital. The report also featured a hospital doctor saying that those injuries were of “medium gravity.”
Nikol Pashinian, the “Haykakan Zhamanak” editor, dismissed those claims and claimed that the incident was a police provocation organized in retaliation for Gevorgian’s scathing articles about Vladimir Gasparian, the chief of the national police. One of those articles was published on January 13.
Gevorgian likewise alleged personal retribution by Gasparian after his release. “They just wanted to show what happens to those who write negative things about him,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) outside the Nubarashen jail. “This is simply persecution.”
“I had no doubts that they will arrest me because, thank God, I know the intellectual level of that [law-enforcement] system very well,” he said. “They prepared the arrest for 20 days. Even in those circumstances they did it with huge violations, which made my dream come true.”
Gevorgian at the same time refused to comment on details of the January 13 incident. “They will commit more mistakes during their further investigation and the trial. If I recount details now they may avoid some of those mistakes,” he explained.
Gevorgian’s release was ordered by a prosecutor overseeing the high-profile criminal case. Sona Truzian, a spokeswoman for Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General, said the prosecutor took into consideration the fact that the journalist is not accused of committing a grave crime and has no prior criminal record.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Truzian defended his detention, saying that he ignored police summonses and evaded prosecution.
Pashinian insisted, however, that the journalist simply wanted to “clarify his status” before showing up for interrogation. The “Haykakan Zhamanak” editor also said that Gevorgian never went into hiding and could have been easily located by the police.
The Yerevan Press Club and the Armenian Committee to Protest Freedom of Speech made a similar point in a joint statement that expressed outrage at the police actions. “For more than ten days Hayk Gevorgian was on the police wanted list while continuing his journalistic activities and entering government buildings,” said the statement issued on Saturday.
The two media watchdogs also described as “fairly plausible” the “Haykakan Zhamanak” claims that Gevorgian was prosecuted for his coverage of the police and Gasparian in particular.
Bagrat Yesayan, editor of the “Yerkir” daily, likewise dismissed the police arguments as “laughable” and demanded that his colleague be immediately set free. “I’m shocked and just can’t find an explanation for this action taken by the authorities,” said Armine Ohanian, editor of the “Hraparak” daily.
Gevorgian’s arrest also prompted strong condemnations from Armenia’s leading opposition forces, including the Armenian National Congress (HAK), of which Pashinian is a senior member.
President Serzh Sarkisian was asked to comment on the case when he met with female members of his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) in the resort town of Tsaghkadzor on Saturday. Panorama.am quoted him as saying that only courts can determine the legality of the police actions. “I will not express my opinion until there is a decision by the court, which I hope will be made as early as possible,” he said.