YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–A law-enforcement agency subordinated to state prosecutors on Wednesday took over the criminal case against a young journalist arrested on what she and Armenia’s leading media associations consider political grounds.
The Special Investigative Service (SIS) refused to say whether it will press charges against Ani Gevorgian, a 22-year-old correspondent for the “Haykakan Zhamanak” accused by the Armenian police of assaulting a police officer during an attempted opposition protest on Sunday.
Gevorgian was arrested on Monday during a fresh confrontation between riot police and opposition activists trying to enter Yerevan’s Liberty Square. Under Armenian law, law-enforcement authorities must formally charge or release her by Thursday afternoon.
According to her lawyer, Lusine Sahakian, Gevorgian is refusing to give any testimony because she “does not trust investigators in any way” and believes the case is “fabricated.”
Sahakian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Tuesday that her client is accused of hitting a police officer, identified as Hambardzum Boksian, in the face.
“She is now suspected of inflicting injuries of medium gravity on another policeman,” the lawyer said on Wednesday. “We still don’t know which policeman. We can only regret the fact that in the Armenian police there is more than one officer willing to claim that he was injured by a 22-year-old girl.”
A police spokesman declined a comment, referring all inquiries to the SIS. An official there told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that the SIS will comment only after looking into the controversial case and taking “certain investigative actions.”
Armenia’s leading media associations have condemned the journalist’s arrest and demanded her immediate release.
“Just how a 23-year-old woman could have used force against police officers remains unclear,” six Armenian media groups said in a joint statement on June 1. They demanded the Armenian police immediately release Gevorgian and punish “the policemen who exceeded their legal powers.”
The statement further condemned the brief detention of two other journalists during the May 31 incident when police used force against several dozen opposition protesters.
“Her arrest and prosecution was unfounded,” Boris Navasardian, chairman of the Yerevan Press Club, echoed in remarks to RFE/RL. Navasardian said it is aimed at restricting and discouraging media coverage of further instances of the police using force against opposition activists.
“It’s very difficult to imagine a 22-year-old girl beating up a policeman,” said Ashot Melikian of the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression. “That’s simply impossible.”
Another member of the committee, Mesrop Harutiunian, rejected the police claims as “ridiculous.” “The police are continuing to spread lies,” he charged. “We demand that Ani Gevorgian be set free and that those policemen who obstructed her work be punished.”