Wednesday’s parliamentary session was interrupted twice after security guards were summoned to settle brawls between pro-government and opposition deputies.
The first fight broke out after Civil Contract Party deputy Hayk Sargsyan accused previous defense ministers of accepting bribes to exempt people from military service during a speech addressing the National Assembly, calling them traitors. Incensed by the accusation, former defense minister and Armenia Alliance deputy Seyran Ohanyan threw a water bottle at Sargsyan, inciting a scuffle. Deputies rushed to the center of the room to wrestle while tossing water bottles at each other. The melee ended after National Assembly speaker Alen Simonyan ordered security guards to enter the chamber and separate the two sides.
The sitting was interrupted one hour later after pro-government deputies shouted down Armenia Alliance parliamentarian Vahe Hakobyan during his speech. After he descended from the podium to confront Civil Contract Party deputy Vahagn Aleksanyan, Aleksanyan kicked him, provoking deputies to rush to their aid and instigating a group fracas.
Wednesday’s scuffles were not without precedent. A brawl erupted between pro-government and opposition lawmakers after Simonyan ordered security guards to remove I Have Honor deputy Anna Mkrtchyan from the parliamentary chamber on Tuesday.
During a question-and-answer session with PM Nikol Pashinyan following his presentation of his five-year government action plan, Mkrtchyan criticized the PM for entering the chamber surrounded by bodyguards. Simonyan interrupted Mkrtchyan, reprimanding her for insulting the PM and forbidding her from speaking throughout the rest of the session. When Pashinyan asserted that his colleagues had reacted “softly” and with restraint to Mkrtchyan, he was met with shouts from the chamber, and Simonyan ordered Mkrtchyan’s removal.
Journalists also became the targets of violence on Wednesday as security guards rushed into the press room to physically remove them from the building and prevent them from filming the altercation. News.am camera operator Hayk Tonoyan was threatened with the withdrawal of his accreditation if he continued filming the proceedings; footage of the fight was forcibly deleted from his camera.
A coalition of 11 media organizations released a statement after Wednesday’s sitting demanding an end to the illegal restrictions on journalistic activity and harassment of journalists in the National Assembly. “We insist that these actions carried out against accredited journalists in the National Assembly are nothing more than violations of freedom of speech and the right of the public to be informed,” the statement reads.
Journalists have been facing mounting restrictions on their coverage of National Assembly proceedings since the new parliament convened on August 2nd. On August 3, Simonyan announced that journalists would no longer be permitted to enter the parliamentary chamber without special permission or to photograph security guards.
On August 11, the alliance of media associations released a statement demanding greater transparency from the National Assembly after the routine livestream of the parliamentary sitting was suspended during another brawl. “Citizens of Armenia have the right and must be informed of what is taking place inside parliament and what behavior is displayed by each deputy, regardless of whether it will be evaluated positively or negatively,” the statement read.