On April 2, the National Committee on Television and Radio (NCTR), whose members are appointed by the president, awarded the A1+ frequency to the entertainment company Sharm, which has close government ties, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
A1+ is known for its critical stance toward the government of President Robert Kocharian, who is up for reelection in 2003. The government maintains that the NCTR's decision was impartial.
Under a new press law, passed in October 2000, all television stations were required to reapply for their broadcast frequencies. In February, the NCTR announced that a public frequency tender would be held in April.
On April 1, the parent company of A1+, Meleteks, petitioned the Economic Court to block the tender, citing procedural violations, the Yerevan Press Club reported. The court is scheduled to hear the case on April 16.
Meanwhile, the station was forced off the air at midnight on April 2.
"The Kocharian government is blatantly abusing the frequency licensing system in an attempt to silence a critical media voice," said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. "We trust that the Economic Court will reverse this unjust decision."
NCTR's decision sparks local protests
On April 2, several hundred A1+ supporters protested in the streets of the capital, Yerevan. Three days later, nearly 10,000 protesters gathered in Yerevan to demand the return of A1+.