Shine Spotlight on Violence Acts against Journalists: Rights Defenders
Violence acts against journalists must be kept spotlight on, rights defenders believe.

Head of HCA Vanadzor Artur Sakunts and lawyer Nikolay Baghdasaryan shared insights on the violence acts observed during the protest against electricity price increase.

Earlier, the Electric Networks of Armenia (ENA) – a 100% subsidiary of Inter RAO (Russia), applied to the Public Services Regulatory Commission (PSRC) to raise the electricity tariffs. The company suggested increasing the daytime tariff from the current 41.85 to 58.93 AMD per 1kWh and the nighttime tariff from the current 31.85 to 48.93 AMD per 1kWh.

Despite the vehement public protests, on June 17 the PSRC took a decision to partially satisfy the ENA’s application. At the PSRC meeting a decision was made to raise the tariffs by 6.93 AMD instead of 17 AMD suggested by the ENA.

The decision led to public discontent that has grown into unrest and mass protests. On June 22, the protesters blocked Baghramyan Avenue in Yerevan, in front of President Sargsyan’s residence. On the morning of June 23, the demonstration against the recent electricity price hike was dispersed with blasts of water and use of force by the riot police. 237 protesters were dragged away by the police. Journalists and bloggers reported that they, too, had endured rough treatment by uniformed and plainclothes officers.

President Sargsyan has suspended an increase in household electricity rates in an effort to end the protests. He stated the tariff rise would go into force, but the government would cover the extra "burden" instead of the public until an independent audit of the decision was completed. Sargsyan's announcement followed a meeting the night before with Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov. During the meeting, they agreed to an audit of the electricity company. Parallelly, Valery Permyakov and Hrachya Harutyunyan will be tried by an Armenian court. In addition, Moscow is to give Armenia a $200 million loan to purchase sophisticated Russian weapons at a discount. “We must demand a detailed investigation of the cases,” Baghdasaryan said.

Two separate investigations must be conducted: for creating obstacles to the work of journalists and for “mass brutality” against peace protesters, Artur Sakunts said.

The journalists were not protesters, Baghdasaryan said, and the Criminal Code, thus, fixes that only creating obstacles to the work of journalists is a defined as a crime.

“And the evidence, video and audio materials prove the fact and they show how police officers were acting and their actions are described in the 2nd Clause of Article 164 of the Criminal Code,” Baghdasaryan said.

Along with Article 164, Baghdasaryan noted, there are other crime elements.

“Let’s take Gala TV journalist Paylak Fahradyan’s case when he was taken to a police station and kept there for 40 minutes without any legal reason. And we should not forget about abuse of power,” Baghdasaryan said.

Sakunts stressed, “The police destroyed the evidence since the journalists had recorded violations and smashing cameras and chips aimed at concealing illegal conduct the citizens suffered from that day.”

The struggle will be more efficient if journalists and lawyers come together to create an initiative to coordinate the process and keep it consistent, the speakers said.

“When there is no counterbalance, there always pop up people ready to hit your head off and get unpunished. If no action is taken, no journalist fights, next time more people will suffer and with more brutality,” Baghdasaryan said.

Lilit Arakelyan, Editor-Coordinator

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