Journalist - a dangerous profession
Struggle for protection of journalist’s source of information
In autumn 2015, the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Armenia has had to confirm a right not to disclose publicly the Mass Media sources of information. The case, that had been considered in different court instances of Armenia since 2014, became the reason for it. Police investigator, Garik Begoyan, demanded to urge The Hraparak newspaper and the iLur.am news portal to disclose their information sources.
On May 9, 2014, The Hraparak newspaper and the iLur.am news portal published materials about a dispute between Chief of Shirak regional Police Department, Vardan Nadaryan and the sportsmen – brothers Arthur and Rafael Alexanyan. According to the publications, the high-rank police official struck Rafael over the head with his pistol and then targeted the gunpoint at Arthur’s chest.
The police investigator, probing into the criminal case of the policeman’s illegal actions, won the case against editorial boards in Armenia’s three court instances. The judges ruled that journalists had to disclose their sources of information.
Armenian legislation guarantees defense of sources of information. A court can make a journalist disclose information sources only in case the matter concerns grave offence or protection of public interests.
Ara Kazaryan, a lawyer, was one of the persons, who submitted the case to the Constitutional Court. According to him, “the media’s sources of information are not to be revealed when such ordinary case is considered, a crime must be solved through usual investigation methods. If a source is disclosed once, all Armenian Mass Media will be frozen as the sources will not provide information that can’t be obtained by the media outlets in ordinary conditions.
As a result of the police pressure on journalists, the Prosecutor’s Office instituted criminal proceedings against the iLur.am news portal editor, Kristina Khanumyan for not disclosing information sources. The OSCE representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovićs interfered and made a statement: “Forcing journalists to disclose confidential sources infringes work of media in Armenia.
In the end, the Armenian Prosecutor General’s Office closed the case against the journalist.
As for Kristina Khanumyan, the editor of the pro-opposition portal, she said she was ready to go to prison, but she would not disclose the information source.
“My arrest would have become the best precedent of restriction of the freedom of speech and minimum half of media outlets would use censorship. Having seen my example, many journalists would have been scared to write freely.
Attacks on journalists
2015 was the Year of #ElectricYerevan in Armenia. The rally under such a title was held from June 19 till July 6 in token of protest against increase of power tariffs.
#ElectricYerevan movement was especially strong on June 23, when policemen dispersed the rally using water cannons at approximately 06.00 a.m. and blocked Bagramyan Avenue. During that attack, the journalists, who were working on the ground, became the target of the policemen alongside with other protestors.
According to the Committee for Protection of Freedom of Speech, policemen exerted physical pressure on 14 reporters and cameramen, hampered legitimate professional activity of representatives of over 20 different media outlets.
“When I was about to finish the shooting, someone thrust the hand from the right to grab my photo camera. I dodged, but then someone pulled it from another side. Those were police officers in civvies. I clutched the camera and sat on the ground, Karapet Sahakyan, PANphoto photo reporter, tells about the developments on June 23.
Police officers seized the reporter’s photo camera and escorted him to the police station. He was released a few hours later.
Hakob Karapetyan, iLur.am reporter, says that police officers dealt with him for a long time. Hunan Poghosyan, General, First Deputy Chief of Armenian Police, personally ordered to seize the reporter’s camera.
“When they could not find a card in the camera, they searched me. Poghosyan ordered to take the memory card and to return the camera. He told me to come to the police department and to take a clean chip, said the reporter.
On July 3, the Special Investigation Service of the Republic of Armenia instituted criminal proceedings over violence against journalists. During the preliminary investigation, 31 persons were recognized the victims, but nobody has been accused or suspected in this case.
The second wave of interference into journalists’ activity in 2015 was observed in Armenia on December 6. The referendum on constitutional changes was held in the republic on that day. There were cases of physical abuse of journalists, covering the referendum, at different election polling stations and outside the campaign headquarters. Cameras were broken and journalists were urged to leave the polling stations.
In dozens of cases violence was used against journalists, their legitimate professional activity was hampered. Criminal proceedings over these cases were instituted, but there have not been any results yet.
“It is a bitter reality and a tradition for Armenia to involve yard authoritative individuals and other persons, whose’ actions seem to be unrestricted, into political events. They use illegal methods when they see activity of journalists, authorized persons or observers and this must be put an end to. Such individuals must be punished for using inadmissible methods, says Boris Navasardyan, Yerevan Press-Club President.
The echo of the year 2015, that was marked with numerous cases of violence against journalists, will be heard in Armenian in 2016, when the freedom of press indices will be published by the influential journalistic organizations.
According to the Freedom House’s report ‘Freedom of the Press 2015’, Armenia rates with 61 points in a list of countries with restricted press freedom. It was 1 point better than in 2014. It is expected, that there will be backtrack in 2016, but it is unknown yet, how many steps backward there will be.