YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Armenian press freedom groups accused law-enforcement authorities on Monday of failing to punish the individuals who attacked journalists during last summer’s anti-government unrest in Yerevan.
One of them, the Committee to Protect Freedom of Speech, argued that no police officer has been prosecuted in connection with the attacks that occurred during the July 2016 clashes between security forces and radical opposition supporters who rallied in support of gunmen occupying a police station in Yerevan. According to the head of the watchdog, Ashot Melikian, 27 reporters were injured at the time.
At least 14 of them, including three RFE/RL reporters, were ambushed by a large group of men wielding sticks as riot police dispersed protesters in the city’s Sari Tagh neighborhood overlooking the besieged police facility. Human rights activists suggested at the time that the attackers were plainclothes officers or government loyalists.
President Serzh Sarkisian publicly apologized for the violence, while urging the injured reporters to “forget about those incidents.” For his part, the chief of the Armenian police, Vladimir Gasparian, ordered his subordinates to identify and track down “civilians” who he claimed beat up the journalists.
Melikian said that the authorities have since pressed criminal charges only against one of the nine civilian men who they say were responsible for the violence.Seven of them have been fined and avoided prosecution, he said.
“Civilians could not have done that,” Melikian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “So we continue to insist that dozens of police officers who abused their powers must be held accountable.”
Arevhat Grigorian, an expert with the Yerevan Press Club, charged that the authorities are deliberately dragging out a criminal investigation into the Sari Tagh violence to make the journalists and their employers lose interest in the case.
Marut Vanian was one of the several reporters who were seriously injured in Sari Tagh on July 29, 2016 and required hospitalization. Vanian has still not fully recovered from his injuries. Nor has he been compensated for two cameras which he says were smashed by the men who beat him up.
“Nobody has been identified and I don’t expect that something real will be done about [the violence,]” said Vanian.