Media Outcry as Journalist Attackers Stay Unpunished

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenia’s leadership showed no signs on Tuesday of impending punishment for violent youths that attacked journalists at an opposition rally in Yerevan–leading to the indiscriminate smashing of TV and still cameras.

"All of this is incompatible with democratic principles and civilization in general," said Astghik Gevorgian–chairwoman of the Armenian Union of Journalists.

The Armenian Press Club issued a more strongly-worded statement accusing law-enforcement agencies of "neglecting their professional duty."

President Robert Kocharian’s spokesman Ashot Kocharian said–"We condemn any illegal act–especially one directed against journalists and representatives of mass media." He would not say whether any orders were issued by the president in connection with the incident.

"It is incomprehensible why law-enforcement bodies did not intervene in those actions," said deputy speaker of Armenia’s parliament Tigran Torosian–"Regardless of who the perpetrators of that violence are–they must be unconditionally identified and punished."

Eyewitnesses say scores of police officers looked on as about two dozen thugs beat journalists and smashed cameras that documented their violent attempts to disrupt Sunday’s rally. The officers–among them the deputy chief of the national Police Service–ignored pleas to stop the rampage. The trouble-makers left the scene unimpeded.

The chief of the Yerevan police department–Nerses Nazarian–sought to justify the police inactivity with claims that his subordinates had been issued with orders to intervene in the proceedings only "in extreme cases." Risking a further media outcry–he portrayed the attack as a mere "dispute of individuals with opposite views."

Several of the attackers were videotaped by a cameraman who managed to escape unscathed.

Kentron was the sole Armenian TV channel to provide detailed coverage of the attack. Other stations which also lost cameras–chose to cover-up the matter up–an act strongly criticized by Boris Navasardian–chairman of the Yerevan Press Club–who said that pro-Kocharian channels are acting against "journalistic solidarity."

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