The staff of two Armenian radio stations run by a former presidential candidate critical of the government went on strike on Wednesday to protest against what they called a politically motivated inspection launched by tax authorities.
The private stations, Radio Hay and Hay FM, said they will air only music and suspend broadcasts altogether for one hour for the next ten days because they believe that the tax audit is illegal. They also said they will not cooperate with officials from the State Revenue Committee (SRC) assigned to look into the broadcasters’ books.
Andreas Ghukasian, the chief executive and an owner of both stations, denounced the SRC inspection as government retribution for his political activities. He said they have operated in a transparent manner and never evaded taxes.
Ghukasian, 42, was one of the eight candidates who ran in Armenia’s February 18 presidential election. He went on hunger strike during the election campaign, demanding that the incumbent President Serzh Sarkisian be barred from seeking reelection because of his alleged vote-rigging record.
Like the main opposition candidate, Raffi Hovannisian, Ghukasian also appealed to the Constitutional Court to annul the official vote results that gave victory to Sarkisian. The court rejected the fraud allegations.
Announcing the strike by his employees, Ghukasian also cited his participation in recent street protests against sharp rises in the prices of natural gas and public transport.
The SRC, meanwhile, denied any political motives behind the tax audit. The tax collection agency insisted that it is “examining” the financial records of Radio Hay and Hay FM in accordance with Armenian law. It also warned the broadcasters against obstructing the inspection.
Armenian media outlets have rarely been inspected by tax officials before.
The latest inspection was announced shortly after Yerevan’s municipal administration demanded that the two radio stations vacate their premises located in a state-owned office building in the city center. The broadcasters have occupied them free of charge since the mid-1990s.