The incident happened on June 3 when Anush Dashtents, a correspondent for the Hraparak daily, approached the 28-year-old deputy, Hayk Sargsian, and other persons standing outside a Yerevan 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.
Sargsian fled the scene in a car after wresting the phone from her and failing to delete the video, Dashtents said, adding that she got the phone back about an hour later.
The lawmaker essentially confirmed this account but defended his actions, accusing Dashtents of violating his privacy.
Obstruction of journalistic work is a criminal offense in Armenia.
Law-enforcement authorities launched an inquiry into the incident strongly condemned by the country’s human rights ombudsman and press freedom groups.
The Special Investigative Service (SIS) decided late last week not to bring criminal charges against Sargsian. It claimed that he did not “consciously” prevent the reporter from doing her job.
About a dozen Armenian media organizations expressed outrage at the SIS’s decision. They demanded that the Office of the Prosecutor-General overturn it and order criminal proceedings against Sargsian.
“We maintain that the incident constituted an obstruction of legitimate professional activities,” they said in a joint statement. “But even if the investigators did not characterize [Sargsian’s actions] in that way, illegally taking away a journalist’s property, breaching the secrecy of their personal data and coercing them not to disseminate information are sufficient grounds for holding Hayk Sargsian accountable.”
The statement said the SIS’s stance runs counter to Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s recent pledges to establish a “dictatorship of the law.” It also demanded that Pashinian’s party “publicly evaluate” this and other scandals caused by Sargsian.
Senior Civil Contract figures have still not commented on the June 3 incident.
Sargsian, who is affiliated with the ruling party and whose twin brother Nairi is an aide to the prime minister, 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.