The unprecedented restrictions were imposed at the start of the inaugural session of Armenia’s new parliament elected in June.
Journalists accredited to the National Assembly discovered that they can no longer interview lawmakers coming out of the parliament chamber or approach the offices of deputies from the ruling Civil Contract party located in a large section of the parliament compound.
A corridor leading to that section was tightly guarded by uniformed officers of the State Protection Service, an agency that provides bodyguards to Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and other senior state officials. They did not allow any reporter to walk through it.
Parliamentary correspondents managed to briefly talk to Alen Simonian, a close Pashinian associate elected parliament speaker later in the day. Simonian claimed that no restrictions have been imposed on their work.
Taguhi Tovmasian, an opposition lawmaker and a former reporter who warned of such restrictions last week, said the parliament administration likewise assured her in writing that the rules for press coverage of the National Assembly have not changed.
“If there is no such decision then it cannot be enforced. But to my surprise, even after this published document we can see that you really have trouble moving around,” Tovmasian told reporters.
Tovmasian, who edited a major newspaper before being first elected to the parliament in 2018, again argued that Armenia’s former, supposedly less democratic governments never dared to take such measures against the parliamentary press corps.
“The restriction of journalists’ freedom of movement is yet another manifestation of [the current authorities’] fear, impotence and weakness,” charged Aghvan Vartanian, another opposition parliamentarian and former newspaper editor.
“Keep fighting, don’t cave in. Go to all places [in the parliament,]” Vartanian told his former colleagues.
Artur Vanetsian, a former National Security Service director who now leads the opposition Pativ Unem bloc, said the parliamentary opposition will try to have the restrictions scrapped.
The restrictions seem to be part of a broader tightening of security in and outside the parliament building, which was also guarded by an unusually large number of riot police on Monday.
In particular, the authorities placed metal detectors at the entrances to the main parliament auditorium also guarded by security officers. This means that from now on deputies will be searched when entering not only the sprawling compound but also the chamber itself.
“This is simply ridiculous,” said Vanetsian. “There are two possible explanations. Either these authorities want to get on the opposition’s nerves in this way or they are just terrified of the opposition.”