Armenian TV stations see politics in police checking masks

YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Armenian police showed up Friday at the offices of two independent television stations critical of the government to check into their alleged violation of infection-prevention rules during the coronavirus pandemic, a move the media outlets denounced as political pressure.

The police said they came to check complaints about ArmNews’ anchor appearing on air without a medical mask.

Samvel Farmanyan, the station’s co-owner, charged that the visit appeared to signal Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s intent to “declare war on the media.”

“He will suffer a shameful defeat,” said Farmanyan, a former lawmaker.

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ArmNews executives said they had been told by the head of the national broadcasting commission that it wasn’t mandatory for anchors to wear masks while on the air.

The police also visited another opposition-leaning TV station, Channel 5, to look into a similar complaint of anchors not wearing masks.

Both stations have been critical of Pashinyan’s activities, closely scrutinizing his government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and its economic policies.

Pashinyan, a former journalist, became prime minister in May 2018 after spearheading massive protests that forced his predecessor to step down. He quickly consolidated control with an early parliamentary election in which his supporters won control of the chamber and methodically sidelined his political foes.

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