Ex-Police Chief Threatens Azatutyun Reporters Working Near Lake Sevan

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Վլադիմիր Գասպարյան

Former Armenian Police Chief Vladimir Gasparian on Saturday obstructed the work of an RFE/RL Armenian Service (Azatutyun) crew working on a report about government plans to dismantle some private houses illegally constructed near Lake Sevan.

Gasparian, who served as Armenia’s police chief for seven years before being dismissed from this post after the change of government in May 2018, drove his vehicle in the direction of two Azatutyun reporters, almost running over them, after seeing that they were filming in the lakeside area where his house is presumably located.

Gasparian further threatened to physically destroy the reporters, using phrases like “I’ll shoot you” and “I’ll slaughter you”. Using offensive language the former police chief demanded that the reporters not show his house in the report.

The RFE/RL Armenian Service has reported the incident to police.

“We are horrified at this attack on our Armenian Service reporters, by no less than a former chief of police,” RFE/RL’s acting President Daisy Sindelar said.

“The reporters were covering a story of significant public interest when Mr. Gasparian nearly struck them with his vehicle, threatened to kill them, and forced them to erase their footage,” Sindelar said.

“We demand that police investigate the incident, and that Mr. Gasparian be held accountable for endangering journalists who were simply doing their jobs,” Sindelar said.

The Azatutyun reporters were working on a follow-up story after newly appointed Environment Minister Romanos Petrosian said this week that authorities will start the process of dismantling illegally constructed facilities and housing near Lake Sevan already on August 10.

According to media reports, a number of houses belonging to several former high-ranking officials, including Gasparian, are affected by the decision.

Earlier this week the newly appointed minister ordered the dismantling of a lakeside resort where a party with the participation of a current pro-government lawmaker had been staged in breach of coronavirus safety rules set by the authorities.

Minister Petrosian then said that the turn was now for illegally constructed facilities and housing around the lake that environmentalists say is endangered by them.

“Here we have no legal issues, as there are no ownership rights pertaining to these territories, consequently there are no prospects of legal actions [against the government],” the minister said.

Environmentalists argue that illegal structures – both business facilities and private houses – greatly damage the lake’s ecosystem, as a result of which for several years now the usually blue Sevan waters have been turning green because of vegetation at some places during the summer.

An environmental plan for Lake Sevan, which lies at 1,900 meters above sea level, aims to raise its level, and the buildings that are to be demolished lie below the level to which it is to be raised.

Raising the level of the lake, the largest body of fresh water in Armenia, has been the stated goal of consecutive Armenian governments.

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