Hayk Sargsyan

Armenian Lawmaker Admits Stealing Reporter’s Phone

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YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — A controversial pro-government parliamentarian admitted on Friday, June 4 stealing the mobile phone of an Armenian journalist who filmed him in a street in Yerevan.

The incident occurred on Thursday after Anush Dashtents, a correspondent for the Hraparak daily, approached the 28-year-old deputy, Hayk Sargsyan, and other persons standing outside an office of Armenia’s ruling Civil Contract party.

Dashtents said Sargsyan got angry when she switched on the phone’s camera and began asking him questions about Russian-mediated talks on the ongoing Armenian-Azerbaijani border dispute. “He jumped on me like a tiger, took the phone and tried to delete [the video,]” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.

Sargsyan got into a car and left the scene after failing to delete it on the spot, Dashtents said, adding that she got her phone back about an hour later.

The lawmaker essentially confirmed this account and defended his actions, accusing Dashtents of violating his privacy.

“I said, ‘I’m sorry but I don’t want to answer your question,’” he told reporters. “Then that woman kept asking me questions and holding the phone in front of my face, as a result of which I took the phone and deleted the clip filmed by her.”

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Sargsyan said he afterwards willingly gave the phone back to the journalist through one of his colleagues. Dashtents disputed that claim, saying that he returned the phone only after she alerted a “well-known” member of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s political team.

The Armenian police launched a preliminary inquiry into the incident. Dashtents was summoned to the police for questioning.

Obstruction of journalistic work is a criminal offense in Armenia.

Ashot Melikyan of the Yerevan-based Committee to Protect Freedom of Speech believes that Sargsyan’s behavior breached a relevant article of the Armenian Criminal Code.

“A person who cannot [properly] socialize with journalists and media has no right to engage in politics,” said Melikyan. “Since this is not the first incident of its kind I believe that the leadership of the parliament must draw conclusions and discuss and evaluate it.”

Armenia’s human rights ombudsman, Arman Tatoyan, also condemned Sargsyan’s behavior as illegal.

Sargsyan, who is affiliated with Pashinyan’s party, is no stranger to controversy. Earlier this year he wrested the microphone from another reporter who tried to interview him in the parliament building in Yerevan.

Sargsyan, whose twin brother Nairi is an aide to Pashinyan, caused greater uproar last July when he partied with dozens of other young people at an Armenian lakeside resort in violation of coronavirus safety rules set by the government. The police fined him and shut down the summer beach club at the time.

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