Death threats against Armenian news editor for satirical cartoon mocking Defence Minister Sargsyan

Sat 10 February 2018 07:45 GMT | 11:45 Local Time

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The director of Armenian news site MediaLab has received death threats on social media, after publishing a satirical cartoon mocking Defence Minister Vigen Sargsyan.

The 28 January cartoon depicts Sargsyan standing in front of bouquet of flowers with a butterfly on his shoulder. A one-legged army veteran stands behind him, and an army colonel holds out a single sock, asking the veteran ‘isn’t this enough for you, soldier’?

The drawing refers to recent media reports that the Armenian Ministry of Defence spent ֏7 million ($15,500) on flowers.

On 14 January, Sargsyan asked the public to raise money for the medical treatment of Albert Dallakyan, a soldier wounded in Nagorno-Karabakh in June 2016. Sargsyan said that the law prohibited the state from paying for Dallakyan’s treatment, Caucasian Knot wrote.

Marianna Grigoryan, who serves as both director and editor-in-chief of MediaLab, confirmed to OC Media that she had received threats via Facebook. According to her, the person was angry at the cartoon featuring Sargsyan.

Grigoryan said that public comments from one person made reference to Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine which was the target of a deadly terror attack in Paris in 2015. The attack left 12 dead and 11 injured.

‘After the public comments, the person started sending private messages with personal threats. We took the threats seriously and personally as the person went beyond general threats and said that he would see me soon and the clock was ticking. He sent a note in Latin and a sign that said live today as tomorrow may not come’, Grigoryan told OC Media.

She said it was not the first time their cartoons had caused controversy. According to her, a previous cartoon on the same topic also led ‘a pro-government blogger’ to write an article ‘trying to discredit Medialab’.

Although she says she is not sure they are involved, Grigoryan thinks ‘it’s obvious that the Ministry of Defence is concerned with our cartoons as they have a strong effect in the media’.

The Prosecutor General of Armenia has launched an investigation into the threats, according to a 6 February statement.

MediaLab have previously received threats for their work, Grigoryan said. In August 2016, her car was smashed by unknown people after MediaLab held an exhibition in a central Yerevan park.

According to partner organisation, the European Endowment for Democracy, the exhibition, strived to encourage the Armenian public to speak out against indifference, ‘ironically’ ended with Grigoryan’s car being broken.

A number of media organisations have expressed support for MediaLab, according to Caucasian Knot.

‘Attacks on the media, such as those advocating harm to the director of MediaLab recently, are an anathema to a free press that is vital to democracy’, the US Embassy in Armenia tweeted on 5 February.

Harlem Désir, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, tweeted on 6 February that he was ‘concerned’ by reports of death threats against Grigoryan. ‘Any threat against journalists, including online, is a threat to democracy. Hope the investigation will be swift and the perpetrator can be brought to justice’, Désir wrote.

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