By Ruzanna Stepanian
Armenian prosecutors announced on Thursday that they have arrested a freelance journalist accused of trying to extort a bribe from a notary in the northern city of Vanadzor through blackmail and deceit.
A statement by the Prosecutor-General’s Office said Tereza Asatrian was taken into custody on Wednesday after demanding $3,500 from the notary in return for a promise not to implicate her in a criminal investigation.
The official, Arusyak Azarian, claimed that the journalist told her last month that law-enforcement agencies are considering prosecuting her for unspecified “violations” and threatened to write an article publicizing the affair. She said she paid Asatrian $1,000 on May 17, several days before deciding to appeal to the local branch of the National Security Service.
“My mother suffers from a serious heart disease and I thought she could die if I was arrested,” the notary told RFE/RL.
However, the suspect’s defense attorney, Anzhela Hogosian, denied the accusations and presented a totally different version of events. Hogosian said Azarian made the allegations to stop her client writing an article that would implicate the notary in the murder of a reputed crime figure from Vanadzor.
The man, Goga Arakelian, was shot dead in Yerevan in broad daylight last July. The circumstances of the killing are still not fully known.
The arrested journalist’s story was supposed to appear in “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun,” a newspaper highly critical of the Armenian government. According to its administrative director, Mher Ghalechian, Asatrian contacted the paper last week, offering to write the piece.
“According to Tereza, that notary phoned Goga Arakelian and they agreed to meet in a particular place in ten minutes’ time, and Arakelian was killed there 10 minutes later,” Ghalechian told RFE/RL. He said Asatrian claimed that Azarian threatened to have the freelancer jailed, presenting herself as a friend of Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian.