Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns yesterday’s search by police of the headquarters of the Yerevan-based Armenian news website Yerevan.Today. It violated the confidentiality of journalists’ sources, RSF said.
The police removed some of Yerevan.Today’s computer equipment during the search, which lasted seven hours and temporarily stopped the site from operating. They also searched the home of its editor, Sevak Hakobyan.
The authorities insisted that the searches had “nothing to do with the journalistic activities” of Yerevan.Today and were carried out as part of an investigation into the origin of a secretly-recorded phone conversation between two top security officials, which the Armenian media published last week.
In the recording, National Security Service chief Artur Vanetsyan and Special Investigative Service chief Sasun Khachatryan were heard discussing the prosecution of former President Robert Kocharyan and a former defence minister in connection with the bloody crackdown on protests in 2008.
The recording suggested that they had sought and obtained the current Prime Minister’s approval before arresting the former officials. Vanetsyan and Khachatryan recognized the recording’s authenticity but said their comments have been misinterpreted.
The recording was widely reported in the Armenian media on 11 September after being posted on YouTube. The authorities claim that Yerevan.Today briefly posted it online two days earlier and then deleted it. Yerevan.Today insists that this claim stems from an erroneous technical evaluation. Computer security experts say the website can be right.
“The search of Yerevan.Today’s premises and the seizure of its equipment constitute grave violations of the principle of the protection of journalists’ sources, which is guaranteed by Armenian legislation and the European Court of Human Rights,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “We regret that the police did not seek a less intrusive and more proportionate way to achieve their legitimate goal.”
A big wave of peaceful protests in April led to Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan’s removal and replacement by the protests’ main leader, Nikol Pashinyan. The new government has promised to combat corruption and improve the rule of law. Armenia is ranked 80th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.