YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Three RFE/RL Armenian Service journalists were attacked by a large group of plainclothes men late on July 29, while they were covering clashes between riot police and protesters marching in support of armed gunmen who have occupied a police compound in Yerevan for the past two weeks.
In Washington, RFE/RL President Thomas Kent strongly condemned the attack. “Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is outraged by this attack on journalists carrying out their professional duty,” Kent said. “We expect the Armenian authorities to bring the attackers to justice and protect journalists carrying out their legitimate work.”
The men who attacked the three journalists — Karlen Aslanian, Hovannes Movsisian, and Garik Harutiunian — were armed with sticks and metal bars, and were clearly aware that they are assaulting reporters.
Movsisian told RFE/RL by phone as he ran for safety that one of the men asked, “Are you filming” before punching Movsisian, smashing his camera and tearing off his ID badge. “I told them that I stopped filming but they kept hitting me.” Movsisian was hospitalized as a result of tear gas inhalation and pain from being hit by fragments of tear gas grenades.
The two other RFE/RL reporters also suffered minor injuries in the attack, before they were able to escape to safety by running along another street in Yerevan’s Sari Tagh neighborhood.
Armenian police spokesman Ashot Aharonian promised in a Facebook post that the police will “immediately” investigate violent attacks on journalists from RFE/RL and other media outlets covering the protests. The Armenian Human Rights Ombudsman’s office also announced that it would investigate reports that those who attacked the journalists were policemen dressed in plain clothes.
Two of the Armenian journalists seriously injured last week during a violent dispersal of an opposition demonstration in Yerevan dismissed on Tuesday President Serzh Sargsyan’s request to “forget about” the violence.
At least 14 reporters and cameramen, including three RFE/RL journalists, suffered injuries as riot police clashed with the protesters showing support for an armed opposition group. Virtually all of them were assaulted by plainclothes men thought to be law-enforcement officers or government loyalists. Some required hospitalization.
Sargsyan publicly apologized for the violence on Monday.
“How can you forget such a thing? You can’t forget it even if you want to,” said Marut Vanian, a cameraman with the online publication Lragir.am recovering in a Yerevan hospital from his injuries.
Vanian said that a large group of men repeatedly hit him with sticks and stole his camera shortly after the police charged at the protesters in Yerevan’s Sari Tagh neighborhood on Friday night. “They continuously hit me. Right from the beginning I showed them by ID badge and said Im a journalist,” he said. “But they tore it off.”
Robert Ananian, a correspondent for the TV station A1+, was wounded in the legs and hands by fragments of stun grenades fired by the police. He is still barely able to walk.
“Those emotional statements and promises do not tell me anything,” Ananian said, commenting on the president’s remarks.
“We, journalists, have heard many promises,” he said. “We have been told before that any violence against us is punishable. But I and my colleagues can only see numerous cases where nobody was held accountable for violence against journalists.”
Sargsyan promised that the Armenian authorities will draw “all necessary conclusions” from the attacks on the journalists but stopped short of explicitly promising to punish those responsible for them.
Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General opened a criminal case in connection with the violence, while the police pledged to launch an “internal inquiry” over the weekend. Nobody has been detained or charged yet.