Photographer assaulted after taking pictures of official’s villa

New York, August 25, 2004—Armenian photojournalist Mkhitar Khachatryan was assaulted after photographing the opulent homes of government officials in the central Armenian resort city of Tsakhkadzor yesterday, according to local and international press reports.

Khachatryan, with the news agency Fotolur, and Anna Israelyan, a correspondent with the independent daily Aravot, were reporting on damages caused to Tsakhkadzor forests by housing construction. Khachatryan photographed villas belonging to high-level police and government officials, the Armenian Service of the U.S.–funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported.

A man guarding a mansion that purportedly belongs to Armen Yeritsyan, deputy chief of Armenian national police, approached the two journalists while Khachatryan was taking photos of the building. The guard ordered Khachatryan to stop photographing and the journalists left the area, according to the RFE/RL.

The guard, accompanied by several other men, later spotted Khachatryan and Israelyan at a café in Tskhkadzor. One of the men beat Khachatryan, causing bruises to his neck and arms, and threatened to kill the photographer, RFE/RL said.

Israelyan and Khachatryan were forced to surrender the photo storage card containing Khachatryan’s photos, local reports said.

In an article published in Aravot today, Israelyan gave a first-person account of the attack and described the pair’s efforts to report on the effect of home construction on the forests. The newspaper ran blank frames with captions where the destroyed photographs were supposed to run.

“CPJ calls on Armenian authorities to investigate the beating of our colleague and bring the man who attacked him to justice,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We urge officials to ensure that journalists in Armenia are able to do their jobs without fear for their safety.”

Violence against journalists in Armenia escalated this year. Security forces and plainclothes men beat reporters covering opposition rallies on April 5 and April 13.

In the first incident, local police stood by while two dozen men in civilian clothes smashed journalists’ cameras, assaulted several reporters and destroyed filmed footage of an April 5 opposition rally in Yerevan. (See CPJ’s alert from April 6.)

In the second incident, three journalists from opposition newspapers and a cameraman with the Russian television channel ORT were beaten by police at an April 13 opposition rally in Yerevan, organized to call for a referendum on President Robert Kocharian’s rule. (See CPJ’s alert from April 13),