Marianna Grigoryan, journalist and editor of MediaLab, an EED-supportedArmenian news portal that illustrates its notes on politics with satirical cartoons, received threats after publishing a joke featuring Armenian defence minister Vigen Sargsyan.
The scene shows the minister surrounded by flowers, in the background a one-footed soldier receives a sock from a general, who says to him
“This (sock) is enough for you soldier, isn’t it? “.
The cartoon is related to the purchase by Armenia’s defence department of floral arrangements worth 7 million drams ($14,500) in late December 2017
According to Marianna Grigoryan, the cartoon wanted to show the paradoxes of the Armenian reality. While the government asks the population to participate by donating money to pay for the treatment of a wounded soldier, itspends millions of dollars on absurd things.
According to Caucasian Knot, the threats were first directed at Grigoryan on Facebook, where someone, annoyed by the cartoon, left this comment on 28 January 2018 in an obvious allusion to the attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in 2015.
“Don’t you think you have crossed the line? Be careful, if you don’t want to suffer the same fate as the French”.
What might initially have been a sarcastic comment, proved not to be. The user later deleted the comments on Facebook, but continued to bully Grigoryan by writing to his personal email address.
In those emails, the threats were already explicit with warnings that hewould “see her soon and that the clock was ticking” and another note with something like“you are alive today, but you might not make it to tomorrow“.
The user, who used the name “Hayk Berman Ohanyan” continued to threaten Grigoryan in private messages. In another, he insinuated that “your daughters’ safety is in danger”. As a precautionary measure, Grigoryan stopped sending the girls to school.
The editor was summoned and questioned by Yerevan police. A police spokesman told the Armenian radio service RFE/RL that law enforcement officials are conducting an investigation, but declined to give further details. It was not known whether they had identified the person who sent the death threats.
Official statement on the investigation. Capture.
This is not the first time Grigoryan has received threats or attacks because of his journalistic activity. In the summer of 2016, unknown persons broke the rear window of his car and stole some printed vignettes after an open-air exhibition in a park in Yerevan
In the same year, MediaLab staff received threats after being criticised by supporters of the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Medialab website was attacked
In October 2017, he had already received threats from a fake Facebook account. Other editors, columnists and their families have also suffered intimidation and threats.
Grigoryan cannot be sure that the government is connected to these threats but believes it is obvious that the Ministry of Defence is concerned about Medialab’s cartoons, as they are widely reported in the media.
Several press freedom organisations have expressed their support for MediaLab.
Medialab, alone in the face of danger
Medialab started its EED-supported online satirical publishing project in November 2015 by relying on cartoons to illustrate news about Armenian politics.
In addition, in February 2017 they launched a monthly satirical paper newspaper called “Moth“, which publishes the cartoons from their online edition.
While the language barrier makes Armenian cartoons virtually unknown beyond its borders, Medialab publishes its magazine Moth also with English subtitles.
They have also opened the website comics.am with complete comics translated into English.
In Armenia there are no cartoonists working for newspapers
It should be noted that this is the only satirical publication published in Armenia, so it is almost normal that they get all the “stick”. Moreover, according to Marianna Grigoyan, there are no editorial cartoonists working for general newspapers.
And as Grigoryan adds, it was only about three years ago that the first cartoons began to be seen at demonstrations as a symbol of protest.
A protester raises a popular cartoon about a tragic story
According to EED, most of the media in Armenia are loyal or sympathetic to the government, and this situation does not change even when investigations into scandals affecting the government are opened.
Interview with Marianna Grigoryan
When did you start receiving threats?
MG : The cartoon was published on 28 January (Army Day) and the threats were published the same day. The cartoon depicts the Minister of Defence.
The headline of the cartoon is:
The Ministry of Defence bought flowers for 7 million AMD ( Armenian Drams), about 14 500 USD at the end of December.
The threats started as public comments on Charlie Hebdo, which were addressed to the whole team, but then the person started sending private messages with personal threats.
Read more : What kind of threats do you receive by post?
MG : Death threats. We took the threats very seriously and especially me, as the person went beyond general threats and said that he would see me soon and that the clock was ticking, etc.
MG : What clues do you have about the possible identity of the person threatening you?
MG : The person threatening me is a military man, an officer who served in the army for 20 years. He wrote to me from his account, not from a fake account. And he had many photos dressed in military uniform and showing army weapons.
When I asked him who the person sending the threats was, he replied that he was a person who sent the enemy to the other neighbourhood and that he would do that to me when he saw me.
Do you have any news about the investigation of this person?
MG : Not yet. The investigation continues
MG : Are threats against journalists or cartoonists common in Armenia?
MG : We are the only media that publishes cartoons. It has not been easy for us to work for the last two years.
MG : It is said that there is a lack of critical media in Armenia. Do you think there is a plurality of information?
MG : No, there are only a few independent media. We have TV stations, internet media, etc. and many of them are controlled. There are also many cartoonists here, but they don’t work as they would in any normal country, they avoid critical thinking because it’s not “safe”.
So, do cartoonists in Armenia censor themselves?
MG : Yes, I think there is self-censorship.
MG : Is there a fear of some kind of repression by official bodies?
MG : Yes, they tried to stop us, to buy us off, to find out what our “price” was for not making and publishing cartoons about the government, and so on. But we continue because we believe in the work we do and also because we have the support of our thousands of readers and various organisations.
How was Medialab born?
MG : In 2009 I won 2 awards in Europe, the “Press Freedom Award-Signal for Europe 2009”, for courage and good analytical reporting from Reporters Without Borders, and the “Free Press of Eastern Europe 2009” award – Fritt Ord and ZEIT Foundation.
I invested the prize money and founded the international NGO Umbrella Journalists and started the MediaLab.am website to develop good Western-style journalism.
Are there any other satytic press publications in Armenia?
MG : No, as you said, we are the problem :)
MG : How would you define the state of health of freedom of the press and freedom of expression in your country?
MG : Unfortunately, the situation in Armenia is not good. Many media companies are under the control of different interests or work directly for one or another political party and personally, I think this is not journalism. Freedom of the press faces many challenges to survive.
About Marianna Grigoryan
Investigative journalist, editor and media professional with more than 20 years of experience. In late 2009 she founded the NGO Umbrella, a network of journalists (MediaLab.am, Daphne.am, Comics.am) with the aim to provide a balanced news source among the polarised local media in Armenia.
She started as a reporter, editor and media advisor for leading Armenian newspapers, she also writes for different international publications, her topics range from political analysis to economic and social issues.
Her articles are published in various media such as The Guardian and she works as a contributing reporter for The Washington Post. For more than a decade she was a freelance reporter and analyst for the international network Eurasianet.org
In November 2015, the Umbrella International Journalists Network launched a project to promote political cartooning in Armenia. Although the cartoons were supposed to be mainly political in nature, various social issues such as domestic violence, gender equality, equal opportunities, etc. were included. The project has been very popular as an alternative form of reporting by illustrating what is happening inside and outside Armenia.
During her career she has won more than 20 local and international awards for her work.
Related, more than 100 cases worldwide.