Several leading media organizations in Armenia have demanded that the country’s law-enforcement agencies conduct a “serious probe” into an incident in which former Chief of Police Vladimir Gasparian obstructed the professional activities of an RFE/RL Armenian Service (Azatutyun) crew working on an environmental story near Lake Sevan over the weekend.
In a joint statement disseminated on Monday the Committee To Protect Freedom of Expression, the Yerevan Press Club, the Asparez journalists’ club and seven other organizations stressed that the former senior official, who is notorious for his violent conduct, “must be held accountable in accordance with the law.”
“During his time in office as chief of police Vladimir Gasparian stood out through his arrogant attitude towards media representatives and in some cases through his cruelty,” the statement said, referring to several such incidents in the past, notably the 2015 and 2016 protests in Yerevan, “when more than 40 journalists and cameramen were targeted by police and were subjected to physical violence and illegal persecution.”
The statement also made a mention of another incident in which the then chief of police grossly insulted a local website’s reporter which then drew anger from the journalistic community.
“All this went unpunished, and, apparently, that is the reason why today the former chief of police continues to show indecent behavior towards journalists,” the organizations stressed.
Gasparian, who served as chief of Armenia’s police for seven years before being dismissed after the regime change in May 2018, drove his vehicle in the direction of RFE/RL reporters, almost running over them, after seeing that they were filming in the lakeside area where his house is presumably located.
Gasparian threatened the reporters, using phrases like “I’ll shoot you” and “I’ll kill you,” and, using offensive language, he also demanded that the reporters not show his house in their report.
RFE/RL’s Armenian Service reported the incident to police.
“We are horrified at this attack on our Armenian Service reporters, by no less than a former chief of police,” RFE/RL’s acting President Daisy Sindelar said on August 9.
“The reporters were covering a story of significant public interest when Mr. Gasparian nearly struck them with his vehicle, threatened to kill them, and forced them to erase their footage,” Sindelar said.
“We demand that police investigate the incident, and that Mr. Gasparian be held accountable for endangering journalists who were simply doing their jobs.”
The RFE/RL reporters were working on a follow-up story after Armenia’s newly appointed environment minister said last week that authorities planned dismantling illegally constructed facilities and houses located near Lake Sevan.
According to media reports, a number of houses belonging to several former high-ranking officials, including Gasparian, are affected by the decision.
On Sunday, in connection with the incident, the Armenian police formally opened a criminal case under Article 164.3 of Armenia’s Criminal Code (“Obstruction to the legal professional activities of a journalist accompanied with threats to the life or health of a journalist or his/her relative”), which is punishable by between 3 and 7 years in prison. Investigation is currently underway.