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Man Charged With Assaulting RFE/RL Armenian Service Reporter

Armenia: Voters at a polling station in Yerevan, 2Apr2017.
Armenia: Voters at a polling station in Yerevan, 2Apr2017.

Armenian law-enforcement authorities have formally charged a man with assaulting a correspondent of RFE/RL’s Armenian Service, known locally as Radio Azatutyun, during the country's April 2 parliamentary elections.

The incident occurred after the journalist, Sisak Gabrielian, noticed that many voters in Yerevan’s Kond neighborhood were visiting a local campaign office of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) just before going into a nearby polling station and casting ballots there. Some of them had cash in their hands as they left the office.

Several young people operating the office denied giving vote bribes to local residents when Gabrielian went in and asked them for comment. They claimed that they were “paying wages.”

Gabrielian saw long lists of people containing their passport numbers, addresses and signatures. The HHK activists then forced him to leave the office. Some of them wrested his mobile phone, which he was using to film the conversation, and hit him.

Armenia's Special Investigative Service (SIS), a law-enforcement body, said on April 19 that Gabrielian was assaulted by a man identified as Levon Gasparian. In a statement, it said Gasparian obstructed “legitimate professional activities of a journalist” and was charged under an article in the Criminal Code dealing with election-related violence. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison.

The SIS statement referred to Gasparian as a “resident of Yerevan” who was headed to the Kond polling station when he spotted Gabrielian outside the local HHK office and demanded that the journalist stop filming. The statement said nothing about the suspect’s connection to the ruling party or its candidate in the area, Hakob Beglarian. The latter has denied responsibility for the violence.

The law-enforcement body gave no indications that Beglarian loyalists who ran the HHK office would be prosecuted on charges of vote buying.

Armenian opposition and civic groups say that vote buying by the HHK was widespread during the elections. European monitors cited “credible information about vote buying” in a report released on April 3.

(edited from an original report by RFE/RL's Armenian Service.)