In a weekend incident condemned by Armenia’s leading political forces, angry government supporters attacked the offices of an online publication highly critical of the Armenian authorities.
The four young men threw eggs and plastered offensive posters at the entrance to the Hayeli.am offices in Yerevan in protest against what they called a pro-Azerbaijani headline of an article published by the news website last week.
The article was about Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s public reaction a statement on the Nagorno-Karabakh made by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian in August. “Aliyev’s belated but ‘strong’ response to Pashinian,” read the headline.
“Hayeli.am has no right to operate,” one of the attackers, Davit Hovannisian, told the “Hraparak” newspaper during the incident.
Hovannisian also stressed the fact that the Hayeli.am editor, Anzhela Tovmasian, is the sister of Hrayr Tovmasian, the chairman of Armenia’s Constitutional Court facing growing government pressure to resign.
“They both must pack their belongings and go to Azerbaijan, to their papa Aliyev … Hrayr Tovmasian’s sister Anzhela Tovmasian has no right to engage in any activity in Armenia,” he said.
“They are lucky because their door is closed. We want to put all this stuff into their office,” Hovannisian said, pointing to the broken eggs and posters depicting Aliyev and the Tovmasians.
Speaking to the “Aravot” daily, Anzhela Tovmasian condemned the “ugly attack on me and my media outlet.” She linked it to her “opposition stance.”
In a statement released on Monday, Hayeli.am described the attack as an act of “political persecution.” It demanded that law-enforcement authorities “punish the hooligans.”
Police said following the incident that they have launched an investigation into “obstruction of the professional and legal work of journalists,” which is a criminal offense in Armenia. The four men, all of them known as ardent supporters of Pashinian, were questioned by the police late on Sunday. None of them was charged as of Monday afternoon.
Armenia’s human rights ombudsman, Arman Tatoyan, and Justice Minister Rustam Badasian were quick to condemn the attack. “In Armenia, there is no alternative to the freedom of speech and any such incident must receive an appropriate legal evaluation,” said Badasian.
All three political forces represented in the Armenian parliament added their voice to the condemnations. “There can be no genuine democracy without free and independent media,” said Vladimir Vartanian, a senior lawmaker representing Pashinian’s My Step alliance.
Edmon Marukian, the leader of the opposition Bright Armenia Party, said the incident will damage Armenia’s international reputation.
“An attack on a media outlet cannot be justified in any case,” said Iveta Tonoyan of the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party. She suggested that the Hayeli.am headline was only a pretext for the government loyalists to besiege the pro-opposition publication.