Armenian law-enforcement authorities have formally charged a man with assaulting a correspondent of RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) during the April 2 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 containing their passport numbers, addresses and signatures. The HHK activists then forced him to leave the office. Some of them wrested his mobile phone, which was filming the conversation, and hit him.
The Special Investigative Service (SIS), a law-enforcement body, said on Wednesday that Gabrielian was assaulted by a man identified as Levon Gasparian. It said Gasparian obstructed “legitimate professional activities of a journalist” and was charged under a Criminal Code article dealing with election-related violence. If convicted, he will risk up to five years in prison.
An SIS statement referred to Gasparian as a mere “resident of Yerevan” who was headed to the Kond polling station when he spotted Gabrielian outside the local HHK office and demanded that the journalist stop filming it. The statement said nothing about the suspect’s connection to the ruling party or its individual candidate in the area, Hakob Beglarian. The latter has denied responsibility for the violence.
The law-enforcement body also gave no indications that Beglarian’s loyalists who ran the HHK office will be prosecuted on charges of vote buying.
Armenian opposition and civic groups say that vote buying by the HHK was widespread during the elections. European monitors have similarly cited “credible information about vote buying” in a report released on April 3.
An HHK spokesman admitted on April 5 that vote bribes were handed out. But he insisted that they did not have a “substantial impact” on the election results that gave a landslide victory to the party headed by President Serzh Sarkisian.