By Anush Martirosian
Armenia’s leading opposition groups have held the government responsible for Monday’s beating of a female correspondent of an opposition newspaper which drew a sharp condemnation from her colleagues and press freedom groups.
Lusine Barseghian of the “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily was briefly hospitalized after being assaulted by unknown men as she left her parents’ apartment block in Yerevan in the morning. She said they kicked and punched her without saying anything.
Barseghian had numerous bruises on her head, arms and feet and complained about sharp headaches as she spoke to RFE/RL later in the day. “It was so unexpected,” she said. “They attacked me from behind. When I cried out and attracted people’s attention they ran away.”
The journalist, whose newspaper boasts the highest circulation in the country, linked the attack to a recent series of articles by her that scrutinized the allegedly illicit activities of influential individuals close to the government. Those included the chief of President Serzh Sarkisian’s staff, Hovik Abrahamian, tycoon Samvel Aleksanian and the controversial mayor of Yerevan’s Erebuni district, Mher Sedrakian. All three men have repeatedly been branded as crime figures by “Haykakan Zhamanak” and opposition politicians.
According to Barseghian, one of her attackers was particularly well-built and had a shaven head, matching the typical appearance of bodyguards of government-linked “oligarchs.”
“This incident once again showed that we live in a country where mass media are not free,” said Nune Sargsian, head of the Yerevan office of the U.S. media support group Internews.
Aram Abrahamian, editor of another major Armenian daily, “Aravot,” also laid the blame on the government and, in particular, its unspecified “criminalized elements.” “I have no doubts that it was done by some government circles,” he told RFE/RL. “Unfortunately, this was not the first or the last such incident.”
Armenia’s main opposition alliance led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian went farther, alleging that the journalist’s beating was the work of the country’s “kleptocratic” government. “We condemn that repugnant deed and declare that responsibility for it fully falls to the regime’s leaders,” it said in a statement.
The allegation was echoed by Another major opposition group, the Zharangutyun party. It accused the authorities of providing a “guarantee of impunity” to criminal elements bullying and attacking government critics.
President Serzh Sarkisian effectively denied the opposition claims on Tuesday when his spokesman condemned the attack. “Everyone must understand that gone are the days when issues could be solved by force,” the presidential press secretary, Samvel Farmanian, said, according to the Regnum news agency.
As of Tuesday evening law-enforcement did not launch criminal proceedings in connection with the incident which “Haykakan Zhamanak” said will not affect its news reporting.
“If they think they can intimidate us, they are badly wrong,” said Barseghian. “My next articles will be much more hard-hitting.”