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Armenian newspaper office broken into

23 December 2019
Taguhi Tovmasian speaks to reporters. Image via RFE/RL.

The offices of Joghovurd and its online outlet armlur.am were broken into. According to the paper’s founder ‘nothing of value’ was taken. She claimed the break-in was an attempt at intimidation.   

A group of ten news agencies and media organisations released a joint statement condemning the attack, which took place on the night of 18 December, including the  Yerevan Press Club, Media Initiative Center, Public Journalism Club, and the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression. 

Joghovurd and armlur.am were founded by ruling My Step Faction MP, Taguhi Tovmasyan. The day after the incident, Tovmasyan told reporters that what happened was not a burglary, as the only thing that had been taken were the security cameras.

‘I believe they were looking for information’,  Tovmasyan told reporters. ‘And the way they tried to find this information [trespassing and ransacking the office] was more of a warning. They were trying to say, “Be careful, see that we can enter the office and take any information whenever we want.”’ 

Tovmasyan believes that law enforcement agencies must solve this case immediately, calling the incident ‘a serious threat to freedom of speech’. 

Difficult cases 

Both Tovmasyan and the editor-in-chief of Joghovurd and armlur.am, Knarik Manukyan, stated that the news outlet had started publishing content concerning controversial cases, including the case concerning the events of 1 March,2008. 

Former President Robert Kocharyan has been one of multiple individuals arrested in charged in connection with the case.

[Read more on OC Media: Competing protests and the death of a witness: month one of Armenia’s ‘trial of the century’]

Manukyan told reporters that investigative agencies often request that they reveal who their sources are. 

Recently Manukyan had been called in to testify in the March 1 case by the Special Investigative Services (SIS) concerning materials that they had published in March.

The materials  included witness testimonies from Constitutional Court Member Feliks Tokhyan, former Defense Deputy Minister Gurgen Melkonyan, and former Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan.

‘We were forced to give out an announcement and ask all investigative agencies to stop interrogating us and let us do our work professionally,’ Manukyan told reporters. ‘After our announcement I was called in by the SIS. There were no threats, but this was a clear mechanism of hindering our professional work. 

‘Naturally, a news outlet would never reveal their source’, she added, further stating that she is tired of the outlet facing questions from Armenian security services after they publish their stories. 

Wire-tapping allegations

On 14 December, 168.am published an article in which it claimed that the SIS wiretapped Manukyan’s phone calls to get information on her sources. 

Answering a request for comment from 168.am, the SIS stated that they could not confirm nor deny the accusations, due to the secret nature of their investigations. 

Prosperous Armenia faction MP Naira Zohrabyan, who was at the Joghovurd office the morning after the break-in, told reporters that anything other than a swift resolution to the case would endanger journalism in Armenia. 

‘If the trespassers are not caught soon then this will be a precedent for those who do not like what media outlets are saying or publishing to act in a similar manner’, Zohrabyan said.

Human Rights Defender of Armenia (HRD) Arman Tatoyan released a statement condemning the attack. 

On 20 December, the office of the HRD published an announcement in which it stated that Knarik Manukyan had requested protection for their office after being called in to testify by the SIS. 

The announcement also stated that the HRD office has demanded clarification from the SIS on the wire-tapping allegations.

‘The legal, professional and unimpeded work of journalists is always on the radar of the Human Rights Defender of Armenia. Any interference in the work of journalists will receive a public response by the Human Rights Defender’s office.’

Seda Muradyan, President and Co-Founder of the Public Journalism Club NGO, told OC Media that this incident is a threat to freedom of speech and must be considered as an to pressure a media outlet. 

‘These types of cases have to not only be condemned in Armenia but also not tolerated’, she said. 

Muradyan believes that if this case is not solved then similar trends [attacks on media outlets] will continue to rise. 

‘There are serious domestic political processes taking place in Armenia today,’ Muradyan said. ‘There is a lot of political tension in our country right now and this is being reflected in attitudes towards, and within, the media field.’

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