When Simonian entered the parliament lobby on Thursday he did not like the posture of cameramen sitting there and had all chairs frequently occupied by them and other reporters removed from there. His spokeswoman, Tsovinar Khachatrian, defended the decision on Friday, saying that the cameramen sat cheekily and thus disrespected the speaker.
The chairs were brought back after parliamentary correspondents met with Simonian later on Thursday. Khachatrian said the cameramen apologized for their “inappropriate and impolite posture.”
According to Hripsime Jebejian, a journalist with the Aravot daily present at the meeting, Simonian told her and her colleagues that they must stand up every time they see him or other lawmakers.
“That demand was very surprising,” Jebejian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “We told him that we cannot comply with it.”
Jebejian also condemned the removal of the chairs. “Even if someone behaved inappropriately in the National Assembly, why should all journalists suffer as a result of that … and be deprived of elementary working conditions which the National Assembly is obliged to put in place?” she said.
Simonian, who is a senior member of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s party, imposed unprecedented restrictions on press coverage of the National Assembly immediately after becoming its speaker in August. He curbed journalists’ freedom of movements inside the building and banned them from filming ugly scenes on the parliament floor.
Armenia’s press freedom groups as well as the parliamentary opposition strongly condemned those restrictions.
Simonian, who reportedly controls a pro-government news website, also came under fire last month when the Armenian government allocated 90 million drams ($185,000) for the purchase of a new limousine for him. He claimed that his current official car frequently breaks down and requires expensive repairs.
The 41-year-old speaker caused an even greater controversy with his disparaging comments about Armenian prisoners of war revealed on December 7. He had been caught on camera branding many of those soldiers as deserters who “laid down their weapons and ran away” during fighting with Azerbaijani forces.
The remarks sparked street protests by angry relatives of POWs. Pashinian and members of his political team did not publicly criticize or disavow them.