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RFE/RL News Broadcasts, Internet Blocked in Armenia

(Prague, Czech Republic–March 3, 2008) Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty broadcasts to Armenia are off the air since Saturday midnight and its Internet site has been blocked in a blackout on independent news, imposed as part of a state of emergency that went into effect on March 2.

Under an emergency decree issued by Armenian president Robert Kocharian, media may use only government-sanctioned news for a 20-day period. RFE/RL’s Armenian Service broadcasts to Armenia four hours daily in Armenian on FM frequencies of two local affiliates who, in compliance with the decree, took RFE/RL programs off the air, filling the time slot with music instead. RFE/RL is the only Armenian language foreign radio in the country.

RFE/RL’s main Armenian language website, has also been blocked, but still managed to register during the first day of March as many unique visitors (23,000) as it averages in an entire month. Two thirds of the visitors are from within Armenia. RFE/RL’s Armenian Service is adding website domains to get around the blockage and continue broadcasting independent news in Armenian for Internet listeners.

In the last RFE/RL broadcast Saturday night, correspondents in Yerevan reported live from the scene of protest rallies, which were forcefully dispersed by police and Interior Ministry troops. Despite media identification, a driver for RFE/RL was beaten by police. The young female correspondent he was accompanying managed to escape, running from the violence. Another RFE/RL correspondent in the Armenian town of Gumri, covering a similar demonstration, was manhandled and threatened by Interior Ministry troops, but stood her ground. She was pushed around until the troops realized she was broadcasting live and their threats were clearly audible to listeners.

Until the Sunday curfew, protesters in Armenia had held daily rallies since the February 19 presidential election they say was rigged by the government. At least eight people are reported dead in the government’s violent crackdown on the demonstrators over the weekend.