The Armenian police have refused to launch criminal proceedings against pro-government students that forcibly prevented journalists from covering a supposedly public defense of Yerevan Mayor Taron Markarian’s controversial doctoral dissertation.
Markarian was awarded a PhD in economics by the Armenian State Economics University (ASEU) on December 26 at a ceremony that was effectively held behind the closed doors contrary to legal requirements.
Several dozen aggressive youths led by the pro-government heads of the ASEU student council blocked the entrance to the university building to thwart any press coverage of the dissertation defense. Some of them bullied and insulted reporters trying to make their away into the building. Two police officers guarding the entrance looked on and refused to intervene.
Some of the reporters lodged afterwards a formal complaint with the police, demanding the opening of a criminal case against the youths affiliated with the ruling Republican Party (HHK). They cited an article of Armenia’s Criminal Code that makes it a crime to obstruct the work of journalists.
The complaint was essentially dismissed by the police. The chief of the national police service, Vladimir Gasparian, said on Thursday that he has only “reprimanded” the two policemen for effectively obeying the abusive students’ orders.
Tigran Safarian, a lawyer representing the journalists, also filed a separate complaint with another law-enforcement body, the Special Investigative Service (SIS). Safarian said on Friday that the SIS has still not responded to the appeal.
Hayk Gevorgian, a senior correspondent for the “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily who tried in vain to cover Markarian’s dissertation defense, criticized the police stance. “Police should have detained and prosecuted at least two dozen youths on the spot,” he said. “The police not only failed to do that but also sided with that hooligan band.”
Nor have the students in question faced serious disciplinary action from the university administration. The ASEU rector, Koryun Atoyan, claimed to have rebuked them after the incident. “I summoned everyone and told that regardless of what happened they had no right to behave like that,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
A photograph circulated on through the Internet earlier this week showed Atoyan attending a New Year’s party with the same students on December 31. “Why should I have not partied with my students?” he said on Friday.
The rector personally told the embattled journalists on December 26 that they cannot attend the event despite a legal requirement that it must be open to the public and the media in particular.