International reporters denied entry to Armenia

New York, March 15, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by Armenia’s refusal to allow four reporters with the Finnish public broadcaster YLE to enter the country, and called on the authorities today to allow the journalists to resume their work in Armenia. 

On Thursday, immigration authorities at the Zvartnots International Airport in the capital, Yerevan, refused to issue visas to the four reporters, and forced them to leave the country, according to local and international press reports. Immigration authorities did not provide an explanation to the reporters–two of whom are from Estonia; the others are from Finland and Lithuania–as to why they were turned away, Armen Nikogosian, a researcher with the Yerevan Press Club, told CPJ.

Andrius Brokas, YLE’s executive producer, said in a statement that the reporters had traveled to Armenia to collect material for a documentary on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the Armenian service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

“At the very least, these journalists deserve an explanation as to why they were not allowed to enter Armenia to cover a story of international interest,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We call on the authorities to allow the YLE crew to enter the country and work freely.”

Unidentified officials with the Armenian Foreign Ministry told the regional news website EurasiaNet that they believed the documentary was commissioned by the government of Azerbaijan for the purpose of damaging Armenia’s reputation. Brokas denied the allegations. He told the Russian service of the BBC that the documentary was financed by YLE and a Lithuanian company, TV Komanda.

A violent conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan erupted in February 1988 over the Nagorno-Karabakh region–a mountainous area populated mostly by ethnic Armenians that is formally part of Azerbaijan but is a de facto breakaway republic. Despite a May 1994 ceasefire, the conflict has not ended and violent incidents continue to take place on the border. Since 1994, the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan have been participating in peace talks on the territory’s status, mediated by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.