People try to break into the offices of the Azatutyun broadcaster in Yerevan, Armenia, on November 10, 2020. (Screenshot: Azatutyun/Youtube)

Demonstrators attack RFE/RL office in Armenia, assault 2 journalists

New York, November 11, 2020 – Armenian authorities should thoroughly investigate the attack on the office of the Azatutyun broadcaster and two of its journalists, and hold those responsible to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

At about 4 a.m. yesterday, a group of approximately 40 people attempted to break into the Yerevan office of Azatutyun, the Armenian service of U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, according to news reports, video of the attempted break-in uploaded by the broadcaster, and Artak Hambardzumyan, Azatutyun’s executive producer, who spoke with CPJ in a phone interview.

When Hambardzumyan began filming the group with his phone, one unidentified man punched him, and another hit and shoved Sevak Mesropyan, an Azatutyun camera operator who was also at the scene, Hambardzumyan said.

Neither journalist was injured, and the group left the area after Azatutyun employees called the police, Hambardzumyan said. The police did not arrive the day of the attack, but officers from the National Security Service visited the office today and are investigating the case, he told CPJ.

“Armenian authorities should conduct a swift and thorough investigation into the attack on Azatutyun’s journalists and the broadcaster’s office, hold the perpetrators to account, and ensure journalists’ safety,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Journalists must be able to cover news in Armenia freely, without fear that they will face mob justice.”

Hambardzumyan told CPJ that the attack took place amid unrest that erupted throughout Yerevan among people opposed to a peace agreement Armenia signed with Azerbaijan relating to the recent conflict in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. He said the group shouted at the Azatutyun offices, calling its employees “Turks” and traitors, and demanding that the outlet’s journalists leave the country.

Dozens of men entered the building housing Azatutyun’s office, went to the second floor where the broadcaster is located, and then kicked and punched the office door, unsuccessfully trying to break in and “take Azatutyun’s server” to prevent them from reporting, according to Hambardzumyan and news reports.

The journalist said that Azatutyun had covered both the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. He told CPJ that the attackers did not want Azatutyun to cover the unrest that was happening in Yerevan, because they thought the outlet was too supportive of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who signed the peace deal.

CPJ emailed the Armenian National Security Service requesting comment, but did not receive a response.