Prosecutor-General Gevorg Kostanian on Wednesday ordered an Armenia law-enforcement agency to launch criminal proceedings in connection with a recent assault on a journalist carried out by a senior security official.
Marine Khachatrian, a correspondent for the A1+ TV station and online news service, was attacked by the chief of the Armenian parliament’s security service, Karen Hayrapetian, as she covered a small demonstration staged outside the National Assembly building in Yerevan on September 9.
Video of the incident showed Hayrapetian slapping Khachatrian in the hand after he and other security guards tore off a big poster which a group of civic activists put on the railings of the parliament compound. The female journalist dropped her video camera as a result.
A1+ was quick to lodge a complaint with the Special Investigative Service (SIS), a law-enforcement body tasked with prosecuting abusive state officials. The SIS questioned Khachatrian for several hours but eventually decided not to open a criminal case on the grounds that the security official was not aware that she is a journalist. Khachatrian insists that she identified herself before being attacked.
Kostanian ordered the SIS, which is subordinate to Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General, to overturn that decision and consider pressing charges against Hayrapetian. The latter will face heavy fines if convicted under an article of the Criminal Code dealing with obstruction of journalists’ work.
Mesrop Movsepian, the A1+ chief, welcomed the development. Mesropian as well as a non-governmental organization called the Association of Informed Citizens formally complained to the prosecutors about the SIS’s stance last week. “The Office of the Prosecutor-General had no choice but to overturn that decision on the basis of our complaint,” the group’s leader, Daniel Ioannisian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The chief prosecutor’s order came just over a week after the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe mentioned the incident in a statement that expressed concern at recent attacks on Armenian journalists. In a letter to Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian publicized on September 30, the OSCE representative on freedom of the media, Dunja Mijatovic, expressed her “disappointment” with the SIS’s refusal to open a criminal case.
“I urge the authorities to adequately and timely address these crimes,” Mijatovic said. “Impunity has a potential to generate more violence and produce a chilling effect on free expression and free media.”