A law-enforcement agency subordinated to state prosecutors on Wednesday took over the criminal case against a young journalist arrested on what she and Armenia’s leading media associations consider political grounds.
The Special Investigative Service (SIS) refused to say whether it will press charges against Ani Gevorgian, a 22-year-old correspondent for the “Haykakan Zhamanak” accused by the Armenian police of assaulting a police officer during an attempted opposition protest on Sunday.
Gevorgian was arrested on Monday during a fresh confrontation between riot police and opposition activists trying to enter Yerevan’s Liberty Square. Under Armenian law, law-enforcement authorities must formally charge or release her by Thursday afternoon.
According to her lawyer, Lusine Sahakian, Gevorgian is refusing to give any testimony because she “does not trust investigators in any way” and believes the case is “fabricated.”
Sahakian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Tuesday that her client is accused of hitting a police officer, identified as Hambardzum Boksian, in the face.
“She is now suspected of inflicting injuries of medium gravity on another policeman,” the lawyer said on Wednesday. “We still don’t know which policeman. We can only regret the fact that in the Armenian police there is more than one officer willing to claim that he was injured by a 22-year-old girl.”
A police spokesman declined a comment, referring all inquiries to the SIS. An official there told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that the SIS will comment only after looking into the controversial case and taking “certain investigative actions.”
Local media groups, meanwhile, repeated their condemnation of the journalist’s arrest and demands for her immediate release. “Her arrest and prosecution was unfounded,” Boris Navasardian, chairman of the Yerevan Press Club, told RFE/RL. Navasardian said it is aimed at restricting and discouraging media coverage of further instances of the police using force against opposition activists.
“It’s very difficult to imagine a 22-year-old girl beating up a policeman,” said Ashot Melikian of the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression. “That’s simply impossible.”
Another member of the committee, Mesrop Harutiunian, rejected the police claims as “ridiculous.” “The police are continuing to spread lies,” he charged. “We demand that Ani Gevorgian be set free and that those policemen who obstructed her work be punished.”
However, the parliamentary leader of President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), Galust Sahakian, effectively defended Gevorgian’s prosecution. “Some strata of the population think they have a privileged status, that if they are a journalist, a minister, an attack is not a crime,” Galust Sahakian told a news briefing in the Armenian parliament. “Everyone must be equal before the law.”
Aram Safarian, the chairman of the parliament’s human rights committee and a senior member of the HHK’s junior coalition partner, the Prosperous Armenia Party, was less categorical. “If she engaged in a journalistic activity and was repressed, that’s one thing,” Safarian told reporters. “A journalist has the right to do their job. But if she acted like a disobedient political activist, that’s another status falling under relevant articles of the Criminal Code.”
(Below is RFE/RL video of Ani Gevorgian's arrest outside Liberty Square on May 31.)