Two of the Armenian journalists seriously injured last week during a violent dispersal of an opposition demonstration in Yerevan dismissed on Tuesday President Serzh Sarkisian’s request to “forget about” the violence.
At least 14 reporters and cameramen, including three RFE/RL journalists, suffered injuries as riot police police clashed with the protesters showing support for an armed opposition group. Virtually all of them were assaulted by plainclothes men thought to be law-enforcement officers or government loyalists. Some required hospitalization.
Sarkisian publicly apologized for the violence on Monday. He also urged the journalists to “forget about those incidents because I am really sure that they will not be repeated.” The violence must have no “subconscious impact” on their professional freedom, added the president.
“How can you forget such a thing? You can’t forget it even if you want to,” said Marut Vanian, a cameraman with the online publication Lragir.am recovering in a Yerevan hospital from his injuries.
Vanian said that a large group of men repeatedly hit him with sticks and stole his camera shortly after the police charged at the protesters in Yerevan’s Sari Tagh neighborhood on Friday night. “They continuously hit me,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “I protected my face with a backpack. But they hit me in the hands and legs.”
“Right from the beginning I showed them by ID badge and said I’m a journalist,” he said. “But they tore it off.”
Robert Ananian, a correspondent for the TV station A1+, was wounded in the legs and hands by fragments of stun grenades fired by the police. He is still barely able to walk.
“Those emotional statements and promises do not tell me anything,” Ananian said, commenting on Sarkisian’s remarks.
“We, journalists, have heard many promises,” he said. “We have been told before that any violence against us is punishable. But I and my colleagues can only see numerous cases where nobody was held accountable for violence against journalists.”
Sarkisian promised that the Armenian authorities will draw “all necessary conclusions” from the attacks on the journalists but stopped short of explicitly promising to punish those responsible for them.
Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General opened a criminal case in connection with the violence, while the police pledged to launch an “internal inquiry” over the weekend. Nobody has been detained or charged yet.