Journalists were subjected to pressure throughout the election
The Armenian media is still talking about the violations and falsifications that were registered throughout the two rounds of the 2003 presidential election. During the same period of time, journalists were subjected to pressure, intimidation, harassment and violence. International observers registered such incidents as well. “In particular, some journalists reported that they experienced pressure, coercion and editorial interference akin to censorship following their coverage of opposition gatherings and subsequent detentions”, states the preliminary report of the International Election Observation Mission of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
Here are some such incidents:
Members of the precinct electoral commissions (as well as unknown persons) hindered journalists from the AibFe daily and the A1+ TV Company from performing their professional duties. In particular, they were prohibited from filming, conducting interviews with the candidates’ proxies and participating in the vote count. During the second round, reports of violations were received from School # 93 of the village of Davidashen, where two polling stations were located. The A1+ crew was “met” at the school by a group of strangely behaving young people, who introduced themselves as “citizens” and “defenders of the law” and prevented the journalists from covering the voting process. Finally, after lengthy resistance, the chairman of one of the precinct commissions allowed them to film the process. The chairman of the other commission, Aram Grigoryan, prohibited filming at his polling station, citing the law. A little later, one of the strangers approached the cameraman asking for an interview and trying to find out what they were filming.
“A young man who introduced himself as Gugo tried to get my note-book. When he saw that his “mission” might fail, he - with a group of young men - attacked our car and, after some pulling, forcefully took away my note-book”, said Arsen Hakobyan from A1+.
The next incident occurred in # 53 Khandjian School. At about 7:30 p.m. the journalists went to the polling station to cover the voting process and to participate in the vote count. From the very beginning the commission’s chairman prohibited them from filming and asked for accreditation papers from the Central Electoral Commission.
“Instead of speaking in legal terms, the commission chairman called somebody on his cellular phone trying to find out who A1+ belonged to”, said Arsen Hakobyan. An athletically built young man complained menacingly that A1+ had not been closed down completely. And then he “generously” advised them to leave or it would be too bad for their equipment. Only after getting in touch with the Central Electoral Commission were they allowed to do some filming.
The commission chairman of the polling station # 26/073 in Etchmiadzin, Lilit Vardanyan, prohibited A1+ from filming once again and showed them a paper from the Central Electoral Commission, allowing filming only with CEC permission. While the crew members were arguing for their rights, some young men attacked the cameraman and shoved him around, attempting to seize his camera and shouting that A1+ didn’t have a broadcasting license.
Another A1+ journalist, Diana Markossyan, was prevented from doing her job. The chairman of the commission of polling station # 0391/17 in the Erebuni district, Ararat Rshtuni, personally grabbed Markossyan and tried to take away her camera when she wanted to film a girl who was stuffing a number of ballots into the box. “I asked policemen to intervene but they just invited me out”, Markossyan said. Karine Asatryan, another A+1 journalist, noted that during negotiations with the police, the camera was on and it was filming one of the proxies shouting that his rights were being violated and the ballot boxes were being stuffed. She said, “We didn’t notice when a group of people burst into the polling station and attacked us screaming that A1+ doesn’t have a license so it didn’t have the right to cover the election,” and added, “They injured the cameraman’s hand and just threw us out.” A1+ presented a written description of all these incidents to CEC chairman Artak Sahradyan.
In polling station # 0391/18, a proxy for Artashes Geghamyan approached journalist Ruzan Arshakyan with 25 ballots in his hands that he taken from someone he had caught trying to stuff them into a ballot box. The commission chairman didn’t draw up a statement recording this incident and treated journalists very rudely, not allowing the A1+ crew to cover the process, preventing an Aravot daily reporter from working, and finally, calling in the police. “The camera of the cameraman assigned to us was destroyed piece by piece in various polling stations,” Ruzan Arshakyan said.
Vahagn Hovakimyan, a reporter from the Haikakan Zhamanak daily, was prevented from covering a trial and was turned out of the court. “The court’s chief of staff was accompanying me upstairs when I was attacked and told to get out”, Hovakimyan said.
The chairman of the commission of polling station # 0014 in School # 170 in the Avan district prohibited Anna Baghdassaryan, a reporter from the Noyan Tapan news agency, from filming the voting process, without any explanation.
On February 19, at the polling station located in the Shirvanzade School in the Arabkir district (chairman - Karine Shahinyan), violence was directed against Gohar Veziryan, a reporter from the Ayzhm weekly. At about noon, a group of young men burst into the polling station and beat the journalist. “They injured three of my fingers and took away my Dictaphone. The observers present there tried to help me. Later they returned the Dictaphone, which wasn’t turned off during the incident, and all the unimaginable curses had been recorded,” Veziryan said. “The situation was very tense during the vote count, they were constantly using bad words addressed at the journalists”, she added.
A reporter from the Kentron TV Company’s Epicenter news program, Nane Adjemyan, was forced to take a leave of absence. Robert Kocharian’s election campaign management didn’t like the reports Adjemyan had prepared during the election campaign. After one telephone call to the Kentron Studio, she was advised to go on leave until the election campaign was over. The reporter recounted this story during a live interview on Internews’ Aniv program. As a result she was fired.
The Russian independent TV station NTV, which provided full coverage of the opposition rallies, went off the air in Armenia on February 26. The Paradise company, which re-broadcasts NTV programs in Armenia, reported technical problems with its transmitters. Several days after the election, NTV programs were back on the air.
Journalists from Public Television reported that they too received threats. Gnel Nalbandyan, director of the information department, told us that their reporters had been prohibited from covering campaign rallies. In particular, they could not cover Artashes Geghamyan’s meetings in the regions, and their cameraman was not allowed to film the most recent opposition rally.
Shant TV station cameraman Edik Petrossyan refused to give us any information, saying that he didn’t have any complaints or demands. However, Gagik Simonyan, director of the information department, said that everyone knows that their cameraman was beaten and intimidated and his camera was broken.
The situation with the regional media was much worse, but reporters working there are simply afraid to talk about it. But that’s a different story.