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Armenia17 March 2003

Double standard criticised in hunt for attackers of two journalists

Reporters Without Borders today criticised the "double standard" of the Armenian authorities for making new arrests in the murder of pro-government journalist Tigran Naghdalian, head of the government TV station, while suspending an enquiry into a bomb attack on independent investigative reporter Mark Grigorian.

"The strenuous efforts to solve the murder of Naghdalian, a leading supporter of President Robert Kocharian, display a political determination not shown in the Grigorian case," said Reporters Without Border secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to the country’s prosecutor-general, Aram Tahmazian.

"We are astonished that five months after the event, no progress has been made in finding those who nearly killed Grigorian or the reasons for the attack on him. This suggests there is a lack of political interest in the case. We ask you to reopen the enquiry and to be as energetic as you have been over the Naghdalian murder," Ménard said.

TV chief Naghdalian, 36, who also presented a political commentary programme called "Orakarg," was shot dead by a mystery gunman in front of his parents’ home in the capital, Yerevan, on 28 December and died in hospital an hour and a half later. President Kocharian called an emergency meeting with top security officials the same day to investigate the killing. Naghdalian had been a key figure at the station since 1998.

Police arrested a fourth suspect in the case on 15 March. He was Armen Sarkisian, the businessman brother of former prime minister Aram Sarkisian, who ran against Kocharian in last month’s presidential election. A cousin of the ex-premier, Ovanes Arutyunian, was arrested the day before and accused of organising the murder. Two other men were arrested on 11 March - Levon Arutyunian (no relation to Ovanes), said to have helped organise the killing, and Gegam Shakhbazarian, who allegedly headed the gang that carried it out.

The prosecutor-general’s office announced on 10 March, as the elections results were being disputed, that the Naghdalian murder had been solved. Ex-premier Sarkisian then accused the authorities of trying to implicate him in the killing.

Grigorian, who is the Reporters Without Borders correspondent in Armenia and deputy head of the Caucasus Media Institute, received a letter from the prosecutor-general’s office dated 24 February saying the enquiry into a grenade attack in a street of the capital on 22 October in which he was seriously injured had been suspended because no suspects had been found.

Grigorian blamed the murder attempt on people opposed to his investigation of a 27 October 1999 commando attack on the national parliament in which eight people were killed, including prime minister Vazgen Sarkisian, parliament spokesman Karen Demirchian and other top political figures. He said the grenade was clearly aimed at him and had exploded at his feet, wounding him in the abdomen, legs and one lung.

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