A correspondent for RFE/RL’s Armenian service was attacked by government loyalists in Yerevan on Sunday while covering Armenia’s parliamentary elections.
The incident occurred after the journalist, Sisak Gabrielian, noticed that many voters in Yerevan’s Kond neighborhood are visiting a local campaign office of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) just before going into a nearby polling station and casting ballots there. Some of them had cash in their hands as they left the office.
Several young people operating the office denied giving vote bribes to local residents when Gabrielian went in and asked them for comment. They claimed that they are “paying wages.”
Gabrielian saw long lists of people placed on the office desk. The lists contained their passport numbers, addresses and signatures.
“You are hampering our work,” said one young man. “You’re not letting us pay people’s wages.” He claimed that the money is paid to HHK “campaign workers.”
The HHK activists then forced Gabrielian to leave the office. Some of them wrested his mobile phone, which was filming the conversation, and hit him in the process. Gabrielian suffered a minor injury to his face.
Another, female reporter was attacked by a group of angry women outside the HHK office in Kond when she started filming people visiting it.
Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General was quick to react to the incident, saying it has “urgently” instructed the police to investigate it.
The HHK spokesman, Eduard Sharmazanov, deplored the violence. He said that any obstruction of journalists’ work is “unacceptable” to the ruling party.
For his part, Hakob Beglarian, an HHK candidate whose constituency encompasses Kond, denied any responsibility for the attacks. “There was no incident inside the campaign office,” Beglarian’s campaign headquarters said in a statement. “The reported scuffles occurred outside the office and they were between the journalists and citizens.”
The statement also denied that Beglarian’s office in the blue-collar area was bribing voters.
The HHK was accused by its political opponents and some media of large-scale vote buying throughout the election campaign. It denied handing out vote bribes. An HHK deputy chairman, Armen Ashotian, praised the conduct of the elections on Sunday afternoon, saying that there have been no serious violations so far.