Armenia’s leading press freedom groups on Monday demanded the resignation of a notorious lawmaker affiliated with President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) after he again insulted and threatened a journalist.
The parliament deputy, Mher Sedrakian, swore at the reporter, Paylak Fahradian, when the latter and several other correspondents tried to ask him for comment on domestic political issues. In an incident caught on several video cameras, Sedrakian also menacingly invited Fahradian into his office “for a talk.”
The incident drew condemnation from many journalists and civil society representatives. Dozens of them are scheduled to stage a protest outside the parliament building in Yerevan on Tuesday.
About a dozen media associations issued a joint statement strongly condemning Sedrakian’s behavior and saying that the HHK must tell him to resign his parliament seat. They also demanded that the HHK’s parliamentary faction apologize to Fahradian.
“If our demands are not met, we will have the grounds to conclude that for the HHK and various government bodies the behavior of Mher Sedrakian and the likes of him is normal,” warned the statement. The signatories also threatened to appeal to the international community to impose “individual sanctions” on Sedrakian and other government loyalists who “periodically and demonstratively break laws.”
The HHK faction pointedly declined to even criticize Sedrakian, however. “Mher Sedrakian says that he didn’t insult any journalist,” said Eduard Sharmazanov, the ruling party spokesman and deputy parliament speaker. “We should clarify first whether such a thing happened.”
When told about video evidence of the verbal abuse, Sharmazanov said, “Show me the video. I haven’t seen it.”
Levon Zurabian, the parliamentary leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), echoed the journalists’ anger. He said that Sedrakian’s behavior reflected the nature of the country’s political leadership.
“If the government is thuggish then the parliament will also be thuggish,” Zurabian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Had we dealt with a normal party guided by democratic values, it would have conducted an internal inquiry and taken sanctions against its member.”
By contrast, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), which is set to strike a power-sharing deal with President Sarkisian, sought to deflect any media criticism from the HHK. Armen Rustamian, a Dashnaktsutyun leader, said that Sarkisian’s party should not be held responsible for questionable actions of its individual members.
A wealthy businessman better known as “Tokhmakhi Mher,” Sedrakian is regarded as a crime figure by opposition politicians and some media. He had for years worked as mayor of Yerevan’s southern Erebuni district before being elected to the National Assembly on the HHK ticket in 2012. The 64-year still holds sway in the area, controlling many local businesses and strongly influencing election results there.
Press reports have repeatedly implicated his clan in violent attacks on opposition activists and journalists as well as vote rigging. In particular, Sedrakian was accused of possibly having a hand in the August 2008 assault on a correspondent for the pro-opposition daily “Haykakan Zhamanak.” The female reporter, Lusine Barseghian, was beaten up by unknown men following a series of articles that scrutinized the allegedly illicit activities of Sedrakian and other influential individuals close to the government.
In 2012, Sedrakian threatened to “break the jaw” of Mher Arshakian, a journalist then employed by the TV station A1+, when the latter tried to interview him in the parliament. He was never formally censured by the parliament or HHK leadership in connection with the incident.