The chief executive of an Armenian news website and one of her employees have been arrested and charged with blackmailing a parliament deputy for financial gain.
According to the Armenian police, Ani Hovannisian, the director of Analitik.am, demanded 300,000 drams ($630) in monthly payments from the lawmaker, Tigran Urikhanian, in return for not publishing articles that would discredit him and his family members.
A police statement said that Hovannisian’s assistant Vartiter Gishian was caught red-handed while accepting money from Urikhanian’s representative at a Yerevan café on Tuesday. Hovannisian was arrested shortly afterwards.
Urikhanian, who recently set up his own political party, subsequently admitted his role in the police operation. But in what he called a gesture of goodwill, he made clear that he will not testify against the arrested suspects.
A Yerevan court on Friday remanded Hovannisian and Gishian in a two-month pre-trial custody on charges of attempted extortion. It was not immediately clear whether the two women pleaded guilty to the accusations.
Their private online publication is continuing its operations despite the arrests. Its employees said they hope their director will be cleared of the charges.
Avetik Ishkhanian, a veteran human rights campaigner, said that the illegal practice the arrested women stand accused of is not uncommon among Armenian media outlets. “Perhaps we can attribute it to the fact that it’s hard to sustain media outlets in Armenia,” Ishkhanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “But that can only be an explanation, not a justification.”
Ashot Melikian of the Yerevan-based Committee to Protect Freedom of Speech also expressed concern at the alleged blackmail. Armenian journalists must strive to expose their “unscrupulous” colleagues, he said.