The incident occurred on Thursday after Anush Dashtents, a correspondent for the Hraparak daily, approached the 28-year-old deputy, Hayk Sargsian, and other persons standing outside an office of Armenia’s ruling Civil Contract party.
Dashtents said Sargsian got angry when she switched on the phone’s camera and began asking him questions about Russian-mediated talks on the ongoing Armenian-Azerbaijani border dispute. “He jumped on me like a tiger, took the phone and tried to delete [the video,]” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
Sargsian got into a car and left the scene after failing to delete it on the spot, Dashtents said, adding that she got her phone back about an hour later.
The lawmaker essentially confirmed this account and defended his actions, accusing Dashtents of violating his privacy.
“I said, ‘I’m sorry but I don’t want to answer your question,’” he told reporters. “Then that woman kept asking me questions and holding the phone in front of my face, as a result of which I took the phone and deleted the clip filmed by her.”
Sargsian said he afterwards willingly gave the phone back to the journalist through one of his colleagues. Dashtents disputed that claim, saying that he returned the phone only after she alerted a “well-known” member of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s political team.
The Armenian police launched a preliminary inquiry into the incident. Dashtents was summoned to the police for questioning.
Obstruction of journalistic work is a criminal offense in Armenia.
Ashot Melikian of the Yerevan-based Committee to Protect Freedom of Speech believes that Sargsian’s behavior breached a relevant article of the Armenian Criminal Code.
“A person who cannot [properly] socialize with journalists and media has no right to engage in politics,” said Melikian. “Since this is not the first incident of its kind I believe that the leadership of the parliament must draw conclusions and discuss and evaluate it.”
Armenia’s human rights ombudsman, Arman Tatoyan, also condemned Sargsian’s behavior as illegal.
Sargsian, who is affiliated with Pashinian’s party, is no stranger to controversy. Earlier this year he wrested the microphone from another reporter who tried to interview him in the parliament building in Yerevan.
Sargsian, whose twin brother Nairi is an aide to Pashinian, caused greater uproar last July when he partied with dozens of other young people at an Armenian lakeside resort in violation of coronavirus safety rules set by the government. The police fined him and shut down the summer beach club at the time.