(RFE/RL) – President Serzh Sargsyan publicly apologized on Monday to more than a dozen Armenian journalists who were beaten up during the violent dispersal by riot police of an opposition rally held in Yerevan last week.
The protest took place on Friday in the city’s Sari Tagh neighborhood overlooking a police compound that was seized by opposition gunmen on July 17.
At least 14 reporters and cameramen, including three RFE/RL journalists, were assaulted and injured by a large group of plainclothes men as the police clashed with the protesters. Some of them required hospitalization.
The attackers are thought to be law-enforcement officers or agents. The violence has been strongly condemned by Armenian civic groups, human rights activists, and Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE’s Vienna-based representative on freedom of the media.
Mijatovic wrote Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian on Monday, urging the Armenian authorities to “guarantee that the press is not targeted by the police or thugs.” “The police should be protecting journalists and members of the media,” she said.
Sargsyan also deplored the violence as he delivered a speech on the authorities’ two-week standoff with the gunmen, which ended on Sunday.
“I apologize to our journalists for the incidents of July 29-30,” he said. “That was our biggest failing during those days.”
“All necessary conclusions will certainly be drawn [by the authorities,]” added the president. “While soliciting your forgiveness, I want to ask journalists, but not law-enforcers, to forget about those incidents because I am really sure that they will not be repeated.”
Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General was quick to open a criminal case in connection with the attacks on the journalists, while the police pledged to launch an “internal inquiry.”
In a joint statement, Armenia’s leading press freedom associations dismissed those moves, saying no law-enforcement official has been prosecuted in the past for assaulting reporters.
“We find it meaningless to demand anything from the police and reserve ourselves the right to resort to other legal means of protecting journalists’ interests,” they said.
Photo Caption 1: An Armenian TV cameraman recovers in a Yerevan hospital from wounds sustained during a violent dispersal of an opposition demonstration, July 30, 2016.
Photo Caption 2: Riot police disperse protesters in Yerevan’s Sari Tagh neighborhood, July 29, 2016.