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Cataloging Violence Targeting Journalists in Armenia’s 2017 Elections

June 12, 2017

By Narine Khachatryan

The numerous cases of violence targeting journalists in Armenia during its April 2, 2017, parliamentary elections highlight the failure of the state’s authorities to keep their promise of ensuring that elections would be held on the highest level possible. At least ten journalists of local media outlets were reported to have been subjected to obstruction and physical violence while covering the April 2 elections. A number of Armenian and international media advocacy groups and media organizations have since condemned the attacks, calling on the Armenian authorities to take measures to ensure that those responsible parties were identified and subjected to liability. Despite these calls, impunity continues to prevail, and only a few perpetrators have officially been charged for their actions.

RFE/RL’s Armenian Service was the first to report that their correspondent Sisak Gabrielyan had been attacked by ruling Republican Party (RPA) activists at the election headquarters of RPA candidate Hakob Beglaryan in Yerevan’s Kond district. Gabrielyan was reportedly hit in the face by RPA office workers after having noticed and starting filming them distributing cash among voters. A large number of people, the journalist claimed, would go into the RPA office, located on 15 Rustaveli St., before heading to a nearby polling station to cast ballots. Most of them, he said, would leave the premises with money in their hands.

In the video published by Azatutyun.am, office workers insist they are paying the staffers’ wages, and when Gabrielyan manages to film a list of dozens of voters’ names with addresses, passport numbers and signatures, they force him out of the office. The RPA campagn activists continue quarreling with Gabrielyan outside of the office, and at some point they attack the journalist and try to seize the smartphone he is using to film the incident.

The video filmed by Gabrielyan also shows Araratnews.am correspondent Shoghik Galstyan and her cameraman Hayk Petrosyan being attacked by a group of women as she is trying to film the commotion. A visibly agitated woman snatches Galstyan’s camera, pushes the reporter, and even pulls her hair.

Other Cases of Obstruction in Yerevan

  • Armtimes.com correspondent Tirayr Muradyan’s professional activities were hindered at the 9/29 precinct, also located in Kond. According to a police report filed by Muradyan, an unknown woman insulted him and hit his camera.
  • Newsbook.am reporter Armine Avetisyan was subjected to pressure, had stones thrown at her, and was threatened with stabbing at another Hakob Beglaryan campaign office in Noragyugh, a neighborhood in Yerevan’s Kentron administrative district.
  • Another Newsbook.am correspondent, Kristine Poghosyan, was threatened and sworn at in the 10/3 precinct in Yerevan’s Sari Tagh neighborhood.
  • News.am correspondent Lusine Shahbazyan was prevented from properly carrying out her professional activities at the 6/01 precinct in Yerevan’s Ajapnyak administrative district.

Other Reporters’ Activities Hindered at Polling Stations Outside of Yerevan

  • Hetq.am correspondent Grisha Balasanyan was pressured and obstructed at the 14/20 precinct in Echmiadzin;
  • Tert.am correspondent Ani Gevorgyan faced challenges at the 12/35 precinct in the Ararat province village of Shahumyan;
  • RFE/RL Armenian Service correspondent Narine Ghalechyan’s activities were hindered at the 20/24 precinct in the Gekharkunik village of Tchambarak;
  • Armtimes.com correspondent Narek Kirakosyan was subjected to pressure at the 32/31 precinct in Gyumri.

Below, each incident is included in a map, with a higher concentration of incidents in and near the capital, Yerevan.

Liability for Perpetrators

A few days following the elections, the office of Armenia’s General Prosecutor released a statement, saying that all the reports of violence against journalists were being looked into and that two criminal cases had already been initiated in connection with the incidents involving Sisak Gabrielyan and Shoghik Galstyan. Three weeks later, Armenia’s Special Investigative Service said that a Yerevan man had been officially charged with assaulting Gabrielyan and obstructing his professional activities. If found guilty, the accused faces up to 5 years in prison. A Yerevan woman, the officials also said, was charged with using violence against Shoghik Galstyan.

Future and Previous Cases

Gabrielyan was caught in a similar incident during the May 14 municipal elections in Yerevan, fewer than two months after the parliamentary elections. He was again attacked by ruling Republican Party loyalists after witnessing them distributing cash to voters outside a RPA campaign headquarters. The video filmed by Gabrielyan shows the staff members of the office insulting and shoving the reporter as the latter tries to find out whether the headquarters had been paying bribes to voters.

 

Shoghik Galstyan is not a stranger to election violence and hindrance herself; during the municipal elections in October 2016, a woman snatched the reporter’s smartphone and smashed it on the ground at the 30/47 polling station in Vanadzor. The woman was subsequently fined AMD 700,000 ($1,442) and barred from taking part in any election-related processes for a year.

According to the 2016 Annual Report on the Situation with Freedom of Expression and Violations of Rights of Journalists and Media in Armenia by the Yerevan-based Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, Armenian media representatives worked in extremely unfavorable conditions in 2016. They were subjected to mass violations and hindrance while covering the July 2016 demonstrations in support of an Anti-government armed group occupying a police station in Yerevan’s Erebuni district.

During the July events, the CPFE report says, 27 journalists and cameramen suffered from police actions, with 19 of them having been subjected to physical violence.

During the coverage of the municipal elections in September–October 2016, as well as during the relatively calm periods, the CPFE recorded 10 cases of physical violence against 26 journalists and cameramen, 52 cases of other types of pressure against mass media representatives, as well as 33 violations of journalists’ right to receive and disseminate information.

For more information on obstructions to journalists during the April 2017 elections, please see this reference list.

Narine Khachatryan

Narine is a Yerevan-based journalist/translator who focuses on social, economic, human rights and political issues in Armenia and the South Caucasus. Prior to joining Bellingcat, she worked with a group of independent journalists, seeking to provide reliable and unbiased information to the public.

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40 Comments

  1. stranger

    “Prior to joining Bellingcat, she worked with a group of independent journalists, seeking to provide reliable and unbiased information to the public.”
    I’m afraid Narine has made a mistake joining Bcats if she indeed is seeking to provide reliable and unbiased information. Bcats is all about the opposite – biased, propagandistic, paid, made to order materials.

    Reply
      • stranger

        Who do you need in Armenia?? Especially referring RFE/RL. Why don’t you write about the human right violations in Ukraine, in Baltics, in Saudi Arabia after all?

        Reply
        • stranger

          Typo: what do you need… you confirm your reputation with each and every article

          Reply
        • Masis

          Cause we as individuals choose to write about issues in the Caucasus. Doesn’t get any simpler than that Mr Stranger. If you want to write about human rights violations in the Ukraine, Baltics or Saudi Arabia start some investigative journalism, learn some IMINT analysis and some OSINT work write for some publications then write a piece on human rights if that’s what your passionate about then send it through.

          Reply
          • stranger

            “Cause we as individuals choose to write about issues in the Caucasus.”
            Oh, of course you did, especially if you are encouraged by Sor0s money, I bet you’d choose.
            I don’t know who are “we”, you didn’t introduce, I assume bcats.
            Caucasus is a very large, very various region and very hot in terms of the conflicts and enthnical issues, very inflammable. But bcat chooses specifically Armenia. Why?
            You can choose whatever you want. But when you always select only the negative events from always one side and silently ignore much more significant problems from the other, that questions your impartiality. And that is what you do just as the matter of the fact regardless of how it works inside your group and what is the motivation. Which we can only guess, from the fact Sor0s is involved, Higg1n posing with Atlantic council folks, your simpathy to the Cold War tool – RFE/RL etc. I don’t want to guess on the reason, I just tell what appears as the result.
            De facto again, you just join informational campaigns and support them with a kind of investigation with the predefined outcome to blame always one side of the conflict. Particularly you have joined and supported the hysterical propagandistic campaign against Russia. You interest to extend your critics to Armenia, the one of the few as I believe Russia ally, is very suspicious too.

        • Pieter VH

          Why don’t you write articles about human rights violations in those countries? If they are good enough then they can also appear on the Bellingcat website.

          Reply
          • stranger

            I’ve answered above. The promising OSINT idea just turned into a little bit more sophisticated propagandistic tool. For the “nerds” auditorium who are less susceptible to the usual mass media brainwashing.

          • Mr White

            The difference is Bcat is specifically paying someone to write about problems in Armenia.

            That is what is weird. And does not bode well for Armenia’s future stability.

  2. Ukukraman

    Pay per vote isnt anything new in the democratic ‘or lack of’ mechanisms of many relatively small nations….but I wonder how deep you would need to dig to find the involvement and money used for vote bribary of another nation not so so far away wishing to control the sphere of influence in it’s near abroad.

    Reply
  3. Arkady

    Pretty useless article. Is there some violence from PEOPLE in Armenia to journalists or obstruction??? Ya. Sure there is. But is it as bad as Azerbaijan and Turkey where they jail journalists, scholars, and writers on a regular monthly basis? Turkey has put over 2000 scholars and writers and journalists in jail for writing or discussing ideals that are indicated as “un-Turkish.” This is pretty low grade obstruction considering what we see in other countries regularly. Sorry, Narine. You’re a lovely lady, but the article doesn’t have too much weight behind it.

    Reply
    • Thomas D

      Is the article titled Turkey Jails Journalists. NO! Its about Armenia so what is your problem? Quote “is there some violence from people in Armenia to journalists?” you say “Ya” so that what the article is about.

      Reply
  4. stranger

    Yes, I also thought this post is remotely targeted against Russia. That is why the bicats consider any minor problem in the countries still allies of Russia and are completely blind to much terrible violations in the conuntries hostile to Russia, or allies in the Middle East etc. Bicats don’t lie directly usually, but they lie indirectly by the confirmation bias in preselection of only the topics which promote their agenda and closing eyes on much more significant or even terrible things which undermine it. No wonder they love to cite RFE/RL which is doing basically the same at a different level.
    So Ukraine is destroyed by the coup, now they want a regime change in Armenia? That explains why they cannot criticize Azerbaydzhan, Ukraine, Baltics, or even Saudi Arabia.
    Narine is a nice looking young lady, who honestly, as I believe, wrote a good article, but her honest, I hope, work is used in such a disgusting context to promote material political purposes and by the way earn some money for Higgns mortgage.

    Reply
    • Mr White

      Well yes. Given the large scale atrocities in Yemen, Bcat would be covering Yemen 24/7 if they actually were genuine citizen journalists.

      Reply
    • Aric Toler

      You need a new hobby other than commenting on every article on our site, as your brain seems to be a little warped. Narine was brought on as paid staff, and she’s writing with no grand geopolitical agenda, and is focusing on issues she thinks are important for the region. Please refrain from your infantilizing comments as well, no need to give a gender-based backhanded compliment.

      Reply
      • stranger

        As you see from other comments here, it is not only me who believe that you as Bellingcat pursue some consistent political agenda. I don’t know Narine and her article looks quite neutral even though she mentions RL and I have no anything against her matetials. I just note it though remotely fits your general promotion policy.
        As for your switching to personalities, I would ascribe it to your bad manners. Please don’t tell me what to do. I’m not going to teach you either. I had no intention to offend Narine in anyway, and you insinuation about “gender-based backhanded compliment” sounds absolutely weird and ridiculous.

        Reply
      • stranger

        “gender-based compliment” that’s how it’s politcorrectly called in your country now? You are crazy.
        You better answer the main question, why your materials are usually so biased, particularly against Russia, and always promote the official point of view of your country, with very rare and soft exceptions. For example why did you describe the fire on Ukrainian held Avdeevka, but never on the city of Donetsk. You vividly showed the destructions of Aleppo and kept silence on the consequence of the offense to Mosul, Raqqa, or just atrocities in Yemen. By switching to discussing personalities you are just avoiding the answer.

        Reply
      • Mr White

        but why would you pay money for someone to write about Armenia?

        as others have said here, there may well be issues with press freedom there but nowhere near as bad as other countries nearby.

        looks like the job is to pump out negative articles about Armenia as ammunition to stir up instability followed by regime change.

        Reply
      • stranger

        There are much more severe problems with the freedom of press, political prisoners, journalists murders etc etc etc in the neighbor Ukraine. Why don’t you hire and pay to somebody to reveal the issues there?? You have a lot of Ukrainian friends, bloggers who provide you with the information, JIT, inform napalm, interpreters, contacts during your and Higgins multiples visits to Ukraine and even talking at Ukrainian TV episodically.
        You have a lot of contacts in Ukraine to tell about real problems of this country instead of deceiving sweet picture the western media disseminate, so why don’t you hire somebody from Ukraine to tell about real problems of this country? Is it a taboo to tell anything negative about Ukraine for you? Ukraine us much closer to you than Armenia in everything.

        Reply
  5. stranger

    That’s also the first time we hear the authors are paid. Before that we though Bellingcat has only 2 employees, Higgins and Toller, and all their authors are volunteers. So they are extending.
    I wonder, that fundraising at kick start for 60k pounds or so, can it explain the source of their income? I believe in no way. They live in expensive countries. It might be just for one person for an year just a bare minimum. So their have other more wealthy sponsors and the kickstart fundraising in a kind of disguise. Then the question is who pays and who orders the music.

    Reply
    • Mr White

      Also on the kickstarter most donators were not ordinary citizens but customers of bellingcat’s work, NGO’s and journalists.

      Actual citizen engagement with bellingcat is almost non existent.

      Reply
      • stranger

        There was all or nothing rule at Kickstarter, the goal of 60k should have been reached or nothing is paid(?) At some moment about 2 weeks before the end, from the account dynamics, it seemed the goal cannot be met. Then it started growing almost equally by 2k or so per day. It looked artificial, as if some bigger sponsors tried to pretend a crowd of individual donators. Though just an impression.

        Reply
          • stranger

            We can see that donations on average did increase for the last half of the collecting period and that on average it was about 2000 indeed. Do you think I used a calculator or wrote down the dynamics? The tendency is as I said, may be not as pronounced. If your bigger sponsors wanted to mimic multiple independend individual investors they’d do about the same.

          • stranger

            We can see that by about 3/22 that was clear the target would not be met should the funding rate be the same. Then for the next 2 weeks the funding rate intensified. Exactly as I said. Fundraising can be a good way to hide the real investors. Even though I have no data to claim it was the case indeed. But anyway those money are far not enough and that means you have other more prosperous sponsors you for some reason don’t formally discover on the website.

          • stranger

            So, thank you, Eliot Higgins aka bellingcatadmin for confirming my point. You better show your mortgage payment schedule. Did your propaganda worth it?

          • stranger

            Unfoturnatelly, Elliot Higgins, as for Soros for example, that is what you said yourself in the interview by mentioning his fund Open Society among your sponsors. It was you posing with Atlantic Council guys. Your site is very biased against Russia as a matter of the fact. In fact what you are doing, you are paid for spreading a little bit disguised propaganda. Partially that is explained by your desire to spin off and PR yourself at the loud media topics, while you are too afraid to go against the common public opinion, in contrast to what real journalists are supposed to do. On the other hand there are sponsors who are ready to pay for your political agenda even if you think they appreciate your “genius” instead.
            So you see, just facts and no any “theories”.

          • stranger

            Is it everything you are able to answer? I quite understand though your fear to answer in essence, because all your excuses would look weak and pathetic. It’s easier for you to keep silence and try to switch to discussing personalities, exactly like Ukrainian trolls, the only ones who support you here. Sorry, I forgot to add Mr., Mr. Higgins, subtle British etiquette, you know, Mr. Propaganda Seller.

  6. stranger

    Leave Armenia along, write about something else. It’s enough already colored coups in the post soviet space and the Middle East. You can vividly see the consequences.

    Reply
    • Mr White

      They won’t leave Armenia alone, that we can guarantee.

      Armenia had better get ready for a Maidan, God help them.

      Reply
      • stranger

        If they hired a dedicated person specifically for Armenia, that means they are going to exploit this topic extensively. May be Narine will finally understand how her good intentions are used for.

        Reply
  7. Friendlyexneighbor of menia

    Dear stranger,

    Bellingcat has a viewpoint, that doesn’t make it propaganda. I lived in Georgia, we had quite a few of your type (foreign) complaining about Soros’ intervention in our “color revolution” and the following “authoritarian” regime. I personally have had enough of your type monopolizing the open source sexy journalism scene.

    Reply
    • stranger

      Having “a viewpoint”, “being biased” and finally “spreading propaganda” is exactly the same thing just called in positive or negative connotation. There is a code of ethics of mass media somewhere in an ideal world. Bcats are not a mass media, but they pretend to be researchers. The main and the only asset researchers may have is their reputation and trust. Being biased and receiving money from questionable interested parties undermines this only asset and ruins trust. It is the worst when paid propagandists are pretending to be impartial researchers.
      That is not (only) about Soros or color revolutions. What concerns me is a tide of dirt and aggressive (mis)informational war against Russia in the western mass media. At the very best, Bcats visibly are just trying to exploit the hot topic in terms of a little bit of popularity and money for themselves. That doesn’t excuse their sacrifice of impartiality on this way, which as I said ruins the reputation. That has nothing to do with an open source research.

      Reply
    • stranger

      I know little about Georgia and your color revolution. I’m happy if you are happy. Just take your Saakashvily back.
      In Ukraine the second color revolution ended up with much more blood and destruction and definitely affected Russia much more.

      Reply

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