ARMENIA: Mayor’s supporters attack journalist

July 13, 2006
Posted: August 16, 2006


Gagik Shamshian, a freelancer writing for the opposition weekly Chorrord Ishkhanutyun and the independent daily Aravot, was assaulted in the southern Yerevan suburb of Nubarashen by relatives and friends of the district’s mayor, Mher Hovannisian, local press reported. The assailants threatened Shamshian, repeatedly hit him, and stole his mobile phone, tape recorder, and wallet, the reports said.

In June, Shamshian angered the mayor and his family after writing an article in Chorrord Ishkhanutyun, which suggested one of the suspects in a recent bank robbery in Yerevan, was related to Hovannisian.

After the attack, Yerevan police arrested and charged Ruben Hovannisian, the mayor’s brother, with robbery, hooliganism, and obstruction of a journalist’s professional activities. He was released on bail on August 2, local press reported.

According to Shamshian, shortly after Ruben Hovannisian was released, a prosecutor investigating the case, Haik Mangoian, told Shamshian to retract his allegations, which form the basis of the criminal charges against Hovannisian, local journalists told CPJ.

The journalist refused and was summoned to the district’s police department shortly after. Police informed Shamshian that one of his landlord’s relatives filed a complaint against him stating that the journalist failed to pay rent on time, damaged furniture in the apartment belonging to the landlord, and possessed several fake passports, the Armenian service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported.

General Hovannes Hunanian, deputy chief of the national Police Service, told journalists that the police have opened a criminal case against Shamshian based on complaints filed by local residents, who claim the journalist insulted them. Shamshian rejects the accusations and believes the criminal case was opened in retaliation for his refusal to withdraw his claim against the mayor’s brother.

On August 4, police interrogated Shamshian again. They informed the journalist that they had opened a criminal case against him. According to RFE/RL, police demanded the right to search the journalist’s apartment but Shamshian refused to let them do that in the absence of his lawyer.

In the evening of August 4, police managed to search Shamshian’s apartment when neither the journalist nor his lawyer were present. On August 13, police unsealed Shamshian’s apartment but officers from a nearby military base informed the journalist the apartment was now the property of the Armenian Defense Ministry and he must vacate it by September 1, local journalists told CPJ.