A correspondent for RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) covering Sunday’s municipal elections in Yerevan was assaulted by government loyalists after witnessing distribution of cash to voters outside a campaign office of the ruling Republican Party (HHK).
The journalist, Sisak Gabrielian, saw a group of other citizens receiving money from another person shortly after they came out of the office located in the city’s central Kentron district.
“Did you vote for Taron?” one man asked them, referring to Yerevan’s incumbent Mayor Taron Markarian, who is affiliated with the HHK. “Yes, we did,” replied one of the citizens.
Gabrielian then went into the office and tried to interview HHK activists working there. Clearly taken aback, they immediately moved hid their papers lying on an office desk. One of them claimed that they are sharing pastry recipes with local residents.
Moments later, some of the young men started verbally abusing and jostling Gabrielian, who was thus forced to stop filming them with his mobile phone. One of them hit the journalist with his hat.
Gabrielian then heard threats from another man, who presented himself as an HHK-affiliated member of Yerevan’s outgoing municipal council. The man apologized to the RFE/RL correspondent shortly afterwards.
The HHK leadership and law-enforcement authorities did not immediately comment on the incident.
Gabrielian was already assaulted while witnessing a similar distribution of cash to voters in another HHK campaign office in Yerevan during the April 2 parliamentary elections. One man was subsequently charged with obstructing “legitimate professional activities of a journalist.” Law-enforcement authorities backed, however, HHK claims that that the ruling party was paying its local activists’ “wages,” rather than buying votes.
Armenian opposition and civic groups maintain that the party headed by President Serzh Sarkisian heavily relied on vote buying to win the April 2 ballot. European monitors similarly cited “credible information about vote buying.”
An HHK spokesman admitted on April 5 that vote bribes were handed out by some candidates. But he insisted that they did not have a “substantial impact” on the election results.