By Karine Kalantarian
About one hundred journalists, human rights campaigners and opposition politicians marched through central Yerevan on Monday to mark World Press Freedom Day, denouncing the continuing ban on Armenia’s top independent television and recent violence against reporters.
The rally went ahead even though its organizers claimed to have received no formal permission from the municipality. The city’s mayor said earlier in the day that he sanctioned it.
“It is strange indeed to fight for the restoration of rights guaranteed by the country’s constitution,” said Nikol Pashinian, editor of the “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily critical of the Armenian authorities.
“We have seen a major retreat in freedom of speech in the last three years,” said Boris Navasardian, chairman of the Yerevan Press Club.
“The number one reason is that pluralism is absent from our television air,” he added, referring to the independent A1+ channel controversially stripped of its broadcasting license two years ago.
Among the protesters was A1+ director Mesrop Movsesian and his employees who have managed to remain afloat by producing programs for provincial TV stations, publishing a newspaper and maintaining a news site on the Internet.
The reopening of A1+ was one of the demands to the Armenian authorities made by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe last week. The de facto ban on A1+ was a key reason why the New York-based watchdog Freedom House described last week the Armenian media as “not free.”
Navasardian also pointed to the recent attacks on Armenian journalists covering opposition protests in Yerevan. The violence has been widely blamed on government loyalists and police officers.
“We have received no indications from investigative bodies that those cases will be solved,” Navasardian said.
The National Press Club, a more radical media group, used the occasion to declare President Robert Kocharian “the enemy of the press” for the third consecutive year. In a statement, it noted the authorities’ failure to punish the perpetrators of those attacks and accused Kocharian of “encouraging the atmosphere of impunity.”