Armenia - With news media paralysed and websites inaccessible, government is urged to lift state of emergency



    MONTREAL, March 5 /CNW Telbec/ - A 20-day state of emergency which
President Robert Kocharyan proclaimed in the capital Yerevan on 1 March is
having a serious impact on the activity of the news media, Reporters Without
Borders said today. The emergency was declared after clashes between security
forces and opposition protesters who say last month's presidential election
was rigged.
    "This authoritarian decision to liable to reinforce part of the
population's resentment of the lack of real free expression in Armenia," the
press freedom organisation said. "We urge the authorities to lift the state of
emergency so that the media can resume working normally and report on the
circumstances in which force was used in clashes leaving a toll of eight dead
and more than 130 wounded."
    Under the state of emergency, all news media are required to use only
official information in their domestic coverage. Reporters Without Borders has
learned that access to several online news publications - including the news
agency A1+ (www.a1plus.am), the opposition newspaper Haykakan Jamanak
(www.azatutyun.am) and website of the daily Aravot (www.aravot.am) - has been
blocked by their hosting service provider, Arminco Ltd, on the orders of the
security services.
    The programmes of Radio Free Europe, the only foreign radio station to
broadcast in Armenian, have been replaced by music, and the station's website
is also inaccessible.
    Three pro-government dailies - Azg, Hayastani Hanrapetutyun and Hayots
Ashxar - continue to be published but one of the most popular newspapers,
Aravot, did not appear yesterday. The issue was banned by the security
services after it was sent to the printer's. The newspaper's staff then
decided to publish blank pages in protest but they were prevented from doing
this as well. Other newspapers such as Haykakan Jamanak and 168 Zham were not
published either.
    A complaint has been brought against Levon Barseghyan, the president of
the "Asparez" journalists club in Gyumri, the second largest city (125 km
north of Yerevan), accusing him of organising illegal gatherings. He has
denied this, and his denial has been supported by several witnesses, but his
trial is due to start within a few days.
    At least three journalists have had run-ins with the police in Gyumri.
Radio Free Europe correspondent Satenik Vantsyan was hit by police officers.
Nune Arevshatyan of Aravot was manhandled by policemen who took her camera.
And Armine Vardanyan of local television station Gala TV was arrested while
doing her a report and her equipment was confiscated, including the video she
had filmed just before her arrest.
    Many journalists have criticised the vagueness of the directive banning
the use of unofficial information as it complicates their work. When they
interview members of the government, for example, they often do not know
whether they can publish the information.
    The TV stations are under especially close surveillance. The national
news reports and information they are providing are in fact being broadcast by
police press officers. Not only is the video footage the same but also the
analyses and comments.




For further information:

For further information: Katherine Borlongan, secretary general,
Reporters Without Borders, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4208, Fax: (514)
521-7771, rsfcanada@rsf.org

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