The editor of an independent Armenian media outlet and a man she accuses of making death threats against her were jointly questioned by law-enforcement officers for more than four hours on Thursday.
The editor, Marianna Grigorian, received threatening messages on Facebook after her MediaLab.am publication posted on January 28 a cartoon that mocked Defense Minister Vigen Sargsian.
A Facebook user identifying himself as “Hayk Berman Ohanyan” warned the MediaLab staff to avoid the fate of the French satirical weekly “Charlie Hebdo” that was attacked by Islamist gunmen in January 2015. The terrorist attack left 12 people dead and 11 others wounded. According to Grigorian, he made more such threats in private messages sent to her in the following days.
Armenia’s Investigative Committee launched a formal inquiry last week, identifying and tracking down the source of the comments. It turned out to be Hayk Ohanyan, a 40-year-old retired army officer.
Ohanyan denied threatening Grigorian with violence both during and after the face-to-face confrontation with her organized by the law-enforcement agency. “I didn’t make any threats against them,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Ohanyan claimed that he was angered by the cartoon’s depiction of a “humiliated soldier” serving as a backdrop to Defense Minister Sargsian’s image. “My protest was only about that soldier, not about what has been claimed,” he said.
Asked why he reminded the MediaLab editor of the “Charlie Hebdo” attack, the ex-officer said:“I meant to say what kind of public reaction it can cause. Mocking a soldier, the country’s most sacred asset, can lead to such things. I didn’t mean myself.”
Ohanyan’s lawyer, Aleksandr Sirunian, also insisted on his innocence, saying that there are no grounds for prosecuting him. Sirunian said he hopes the joint interrogation helped Grigorian understand that his client is someone who “doesn’t go any farther than his tablet computer and sofa.”
Grigorian insisted, however, that Ohanyan’s comments did constitute death threats. She reiterated that in one of his messages he signaled that her young daughter is also in danger. “When you mention a girl’s name during such a conversation it’s a clear hint,” she said.
Ohanyan claimed in this regard that he mentioned the girl only because “she bears my favorite name.”
The criminal investigation is being conducted under an article of the Armenian Criminal Code dealing with grave threats of murder and serious injury. Ohanyan has not been formally charged yet.
Earlier this week, Grigorian asked for police protection of herself and members of her family. The Investigative Committee informed her on Thursday that it has taken measures to prevent possible attacks on them. It did not elaborate on those measures.
The U.S. Embassy in Armenia has expressed concern at the threats reported by Grigorian, saying that they are “an anathema to a free press that is vital to democracy.” The head of the European Union Delegation in Yerevan, Piotr Switalski, added his voice to those concerns when he met with the editor earlier on Thursday.