Police in Armenia raided the offices of local news site Yerevan.Today on Monday morning, according to local media. The search, which was still ongoing Monday afternoon, was related to recordings of phone conversations between two top security chiefs leaked online last week.
The wiretapped conversations between Artur Vanetsyan, Director of the National Security Service (NSS), and Sasun Khachatryan, Head of the Special Investigative Service (SIS) suggested Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s direct involvement in the decision to arrest former Deputy Defence Minister Yuri Khachaturov.
In the recordings, the SIS head also boasts of pressuring a judge to detain former president Robert Kocharyan. Both Kocharyan and Khachaturov are being prosecuted in the case of fatal dispersal of post-election opposition rallies in March 2008 that left ten people dead.
[Read more about the leaks and reactions on OC Media: Armenian security service pressured judge according to wiretapped phone calls]
At 11:00, Yerevan.Today announced via their Facebook page that their offices were being searched and that ‘journalists are awaiting an explanation’. Yerevan.Today’s website went offline briefly on Monday afternoon, before returning.
‘An anti-PR campaign’
According to NewsArmenia.am, Armenia’s Investigative Committee confirmed that they were conducting the raid over the leaked recordings, but refused to disclose further details. The Committee later claimed they were searching five other addresses to reveal the origin of the leak, and insisted the search was not connected to ‘journalistic activities’.
On 12 September, Yerevan.Today denied rumours they had posted the recording online two days prior it making headlines in Armenia. The news site insisted the allegations had turned into a ‘broad anti-PR campaign against the newspaper’ and were based on ‘erroneous’ Google search results. They said they knew about the leaked recording and published it at the time online at the same time it became known to others — at around 15:00 on 11 September.
Satik Seyranyan, head of the Armenian Union of Journalists, told the media that he had failed to reach the site’s editor-in-chief, Sevak Hakobyan, as the authorities were preventing him from communicating with others. Local media reported that Hakobyan’s house was also being searched.
Footage from outside the offices of Yerevan.Today on Monday (Azatutyun)
Later, Hakobyan confirmed to Tert.am that the authorities had confiscated his computer and hard drives from several computers from the office. He also denied rumours that Yerevan.Today was connected with former President Robert Kocharyan.
Kocharyan recently announced he was returning to Armenian politics, answering ‘consider me back’ when asked about it in an interview with Armenian TV station Yerkir Media.
The Public Defender’s Office has said they have requested clarification from the Investigative Committee over the search.