Free speech costs 25.665.100 drams in Armenia

The administrative war launched from October 14, 2007 by RA State bodies against the Gyumri GALA (Independent Information Channel of Gyumri) TV company is coming to a close, and this last free TV channel in Armenia will soon be forced to pay 25 million Armenian drams for making use of its Constitutional right of freedom of speech.

Having led a disparate campaign of protecting GALA’s rights via a series of court proceedings, petitions, demonstrations and having lost all confidence in the Judicial system of Armenia, the Headquarters of Freedom of Speech and GALA TV Protection has issued the following call, directed at all those, who care about the Freedom of Speech in this country:

Dear Friends, bank accounts have been opened in the name of GALA TV founder, where contributions are requested from various regions of Armenia as well as from our compatriots and sympathetic people from around the world. By contributing to these accounts you will help pay the price of Free Speech in Armenia – which is 25.665.100 drams (around $ 84,200 US). This amount, which exceeds 3 year earnings of this small regional TV company, is indeed a small price to pay for the noble cause of protecting our most basic human rights. We call on you to contribute or loan money to us (which GALA TV will be obliged to pay back within 3 years period), to the following bank accounts:

For transfers in AMD:
“YUNIBANK” CJSC, “Gyumri” Branch,
Account number: 2410 3101 2610 Vahan Khachatryan

For transfers in USD
Intermediary Bank: Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas, New York
SWIFT: BKTR US 33
Beneficiary’s bank: UNIBANK, Armenia, SWIFT: UNIJ AM 22
Acc: 0443 7920 “UNIBANK” CJSC GYUMRI BRANCH
Beneficiary: Khachatryan Vahan Account: 2410 3111 2618

Despite the fact, that this call for assistance was issued starting from March 17, the Headquarters of Freedom of Speech and GALA TV Protection as well as the management of the GALA TV company have already received several hundred phone calls, stating their support for our cause and expressing readiness to assist. Feel free to contact us at: +374 312 31819, +374 312 31889 or call directly the founder of GALA TV Vahan Khachatryan at: + 374 91 43 55 63.

Background: The RA Authorities started a incredible administrative pressures (Via the RA Presidential Office, RA State Security Service: Shirak and Gyumri branches, RA State Tax Service operatives and Gyumri Tax Service, RA National Committee of Television and Radio officials), after the TV company dared to broadcast on October 14, 2007, the 22 minute public speech made by the RA first president L. Ter-Petrossian, after his 10 year-long silence, at Marcotte-Armenia hotel on September 21, 2007.

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34 thoughts on “Free speech costs 25.665.100 drams in Armenia

  1. Dear Ditord,

    Thank you for putting this info up. Diasporans, this is an excellent opportunity for all of us to partake in… a $100 or $200 for each of us is nothing compared to the struggles that the new generation of “freedom fighters” are going through in Armenia today.

  2. What was the 25,665,100 drams demanded for? Non-payment of taxes, administrative fines, what? There has to be something a little more concrete than sensationalising the amount as the “cost of freedom of speech.” What was the reason given for the amount and is it being appealed?

  3. Onnik – very good question! As I’ve written above:

    Having led a disparate campaign of protecting GALA’s rights via a series of court proceedings, petitions, demonstrations and having lost all confidence in the Judicial system of Armenia, the Headquarters of Freedom of Speech and GALA TV Protection has issued the following

    The original announcement by the Headquarters was 8 pages long, describing all the court proceedings GALA TV has gone through, but I didn’t have time to translate or even summarize it – my mistake. I’ll post some extracts in Armenian here in a minute.

  4. Well, isn’t it simple to say what the 25,665,100 drams is meant to account for? Their actions are not relevant here. What we need to know is what is the amount meant to be for. One supposes its tax evasion or fines, but regarding confidence in the judicial system of Armenia I always remember that the problem is that most organizations and individuals are not clean.

    It’s why they can come to check your books and hope to find something. However, those who are clean can generally win their cases without paying bribes and having to cope with politically-controlled judges. Anyway, I think it’s important to know what this money is meant to represent. I certainly know from experience with some pro-opposition media outlets in Armenia that a lot of money is going unrecorded for partisan pieces and stories.

    Talking of which, can’t Gala go and ask Grzo for the money? Well, assuming they can locate him, of course ;-)

  5. Got it at YPC:

    TAX AUDIT OVER AT “GALA” TV COMPANY

    On November 12 the Public Relations Department of the RA State Tax Service informed that as a result of an audit of the activities of “CHAP” LLC, the founder of “GALA” TV company of Gyumri, a number of serious violations were revealed. In particular, when comparing the documentation of “CHAP” LLC, submitted to the National Commission on Television and Radio, with the accounts of the company itself and the tax reports for September 2005 – September 2007, the auditors revealed concealed amounts of TV advertising, as a result of which the company has to pay about 26 million AMD to the state budget (including the penalties). Besides, as the audit showed, the TV tower that “GALA” founder uses is owned by Gyumri municipality, is not rented by the company and is operated by it illegally.

    The owner of “CHAP” LLC Vahan Khachatrian, on his behalf, announced that “GALA” TV could not have had the advertising volumes that the tax service based its calculations on. As to the TV tower, as Vahan Khachatrian noted, the certificate of ownership of the tower was received by Gyumri municipality only on November 5, 2007. Till that time, in 2004-2005, he addressed various agencies but was unable to find the tower owner. According to Vahan Khachatrian, he operated the TV tower that had no one take care of since 2005, with a preliminary renovation and enforcement of the transmitter.

    On November 14 Vahan Khachatrian made a statement noting he was going to challenge the tax audit results and currently the auditors he invited are studying the materials. Having reminded about the common practice of using tax audits as a tool for exerting pressure on media, “GALA” owner stressed that the situation with the TV company has political underpinning. “What prevented the State Tax Service from auditing the activities of “GALA” TV company a year ago or 10 days after the elections?”, Vahan Khachatrian concluded.

    As it has been reported, the tax audit at “CHAP” LLC started on October 29. Earlier, on October 22, Vahan Khachatrian released a statement regarding the attempts of various power agencies to exert pressure on “GALA”, stressing the firmness of the TV channel’s stand and his readiness to stop any attempt of intervention with its editorial policy. “GALA” made a detailed coverage of the tax audit, during which, on November 6, an incident occurred between the cameraman of the company Grigor Shaghoyan and a tax inspector. Currently the journalist’s appeal about his legitimate professional activities being impeded is being considered by the Gyumri police department (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, November 2-8, 2007).

    http://www.ypc.am/eng/index.php?go=newsletter/2007/november_eng/9_15

  6. It is several different payments – including claims of tax evasion, payment for a TV tower for the broadcast antenna of Gala etc.

    Interestingly, the tax service are claiming, that GALA has hidden around 25000000 drams in taxes. However, the head of jouranlists club Asparez – Levon Barseghyan, who has worked as the news/advertising division director of now very prosperous Shant TV, and who has implemented several researches of media coverage and media sphere in Gyumri and the Shirak region says (and is ready to prove), that no TV company operating in Gyumri/Shirak could make so much profit working in this region, even if they were the ONLY TV company operating in this area. Whereas, we know, that GALA TV is a very young TV station, and it is facing competition in this area not only from local TV companies: Shant, Shirak, Tsayg TV, but also from nationwide TV channels – PTA, H2, Armenia, ALM. According to him the advertisement market in Gyumri is so small, that Gala could make 25000000 drams in profit (which means only 20% of it is due in taxes = 5,000000) in 3 years at best, whereas the TV has started first attempts of broadcasting in September 2005, and has only started getting first advertisers in 2006.

  7. What is the split of the 25 million in terms of taxes and payment for the TV tower?

    Anyway, one suspects that Gala did evade taxes or not declare all their income (most NGOs, businesses, individuals etc do this as a matter of habit) but the dispute over the figure is an interesting one. Probably, they did, but not to the extent that the authorities say. As with customs they probably just make up the figure on the spot, but it’s important to note that anyone who wants to take on the government has to make sure their records are straight. It’s the number one way the authorities will try to hit opponents in civil society.

    Unfortunately, as I’ve said, I know a number of pro-opposition (“independent”) outlets who have received money secretly from the U.S. Embassy as well as Diasporan organizations for partisan pieces. The finance is given on the basis that its source is not declared or named. Sorry, but it’s why I look upon such cases more cynically than most. To be honest, the media and civil society became so politicized during this election that they took sides and forgot their duties and responsibilities.

    I think Gala was politicized too and not politically independent. Even so, there’s no doubt that this case was politically motivated. I just can’t consider them to be some beacon of free speech and democracy, that’s all.

  8. I think they are only trying to collect the tax amount – which is the 25,000,000 thing. The TV tower court process is still incomplete. The Municipality are demanding that GALA should pay 200,000 AMD per month since 2004 (which means around 8,000,000 AMD), however, GALA are saying, that the TV Tower has only become Municipality property since November 5th, 2007 (very conveniently so), only after the administrative pressures started. Before that – it was recognized as “tirazurk” – “nobody’s property”, and GALA are saying the municipality has no ground to claim money for something that wasn’t theirs. Hence – the payment for the tower might be between 1 million to 8 million drams. I’m sure, that if GALA are able to collect the large amount – the 25 million one, the remaining 1 million (hopefully) or 8 million (illegally and sadly), will be paid for by GALA owners.

    The ugly thing is – Gyumri mayor keeps saying about his attempts to create jobs all the time, but now he’s trying to shut down GALA – which gives jobs to around 20 (as far as I know) media professionals. Plus, they’ve blocked GALA owner Chap LTD’s assets – and Chap LTD was planning to invest money into starting the Soup Production factory in Gyumri, which would give jobs to 180 more people, but because their accounts are blocked and all companies who used to advertise on GALA have been scared off by Tax and State Security officials, the LTD had so much financial losses, that it has cancelled plans to launch the Soup factory and are planning to sell whatever they have, to cover the costs for their Freedom to Speek.

  9. “It’s why they can come to check your books and hope to find something. However, those who are clean can generally win their cases without paying bribes..”

    Unfortunately, not true. You need to be clean and pay a bribe, and if you’re lucky you may win a case against tax authorities.

  10. The movement which has been partly crystallized around Ter-Petrossyan, is honest and sincere genuine grassroots movement for opposition. While not in an articulate manner, it is for genuine democracy in Armenia. The public who take part in it, honestly and deeply believe that they, that us, the Armenians, can and should and will create a functioning democracy. Despite the context, despite the postponed war, and despite lack of political culture of democracy. The majority of them, not knowing how in fact to go for it, chose their representative, the tank which can break down the current impasse and help them to go for the realization of their aims, the figure of the first president of Armenia. They know that this is a deeply imperfect figure, but they felt that he might have power enough, as different from all the other opposition sugarheads, to turn the situation upside down. http://www.pf-armenia.org/blogs/politics-and-international-relations/?tx_wecdiscussion%5Bsingle%5D=77

  11. Here is where we differ, tm. “Turning the situation upside down” was accomplished by many people in human history. Some of this led to good outcomes, most bad.

    How will this experiment turn out?

    Hint: Who is leading the charge? A discredited former leader who introduced many of the vices and societal ills he claims to be fighting against? Or a clean, honest, untarnished spokesman of the moral well-meaning dispossessed? I agree that many of the dissatisfied want something good, better than what we have now. But I am strongly convinced that following a demagogue is not going to get you (us) there. And it is worse than a naive demagogue. LTP knows exactly what he is doing, and has successfully become the champion for a minority who for good reasons and/or bad are following him.

    I pray tonite that “turning Armenia upside down” does not occur and that people think before conducting such poorly designed experiments.

  12. the people know exactly what they’re doing too. we are using LTP as a hammer against a machine – ever think of that? we have only limited tools. if LTP is the only one we can use now, so be it. there has never been a ‘clean, honest, untarnished spokesman’ for any movement. even ghandi had some faults. but its not the leader as a person that is important. right tool, right time, right place to kick armenia in its ass and get back to philosophers and poets instead of rabiz garbage. everyone is well award of LTP’s faults. 99% of the people at the rallies hated him three months ago for all the reasons stated here over and over. but let’s face it – VERY few Armenians have been honest in this life. we all pay bribes when it helps us, we all will bitch one day but accept a job from a crook if it comes up. there is no unblemished person in a position to lead us. but the circle has to be broken somewhere and it will never be ideal. again, LTP is the only tool available to get something going. if there was another, we would have used it. athur and raffi, etc don’t have the balls. and whatever motivates LTP is not important. who cares why he gets up in the morning. he is very useful to us right now.

    your premise begs the question, a la de Touqeville: “If men were angels, we wouldn’t need government.”

  13. dear Onnik

    as i see you cannot or rather don’t want to understand one simple thing!
    Supporting to Gala – people supporting their tomorrow.
    They helping neither Grzo nor Levon – they helping themselves.

    Gala was and remains the single media which didn’t turn into authorities
    milksop.

  14. tm states: “We are using LTP as a hammer against a machine.”

    I think the tail thinks it is wagging the dog here.

    Who is the user, who is the tool?

  15. i guess all i see in your argument is defeatism. what is your bottom line? that there is no hope? you can find fault in anything if you want to. typic hay – always complaining, always blaming others, always finding fault in anything, always wondering why the world is passing them by.

    maybe the tail does think it is wagging the dog. and good for the fucking tail! its about goddammed time…

    meanwhile you can wait for the perfect time with the perfect person with the perfect message with the perfect strategy. what was the movie? ‘get busy living or get busy dying.’ life sucks in armenia and i don’t give a shit how we change it, but its gotta change.

  16. the peoples who supporting Gala today are cream of our society.
    Its pleasure to know , that lot of our people dont want to feel themselves as russians says “быдло”

  17. tm your most recent post makes you sound like a suicide bomber.

    I am quite optimistic, actually. Nothing defeatist at all. I think Armenia is improving, albeit too slowly. I think that true democracy is growing and will grow further. I believe in healthy forces within the government to demand better from within, and I believe in a healthy opposition which can demand from without.

    I am against hijacking of the dynamic by proven failure demagogues, and I am not naive enough to believe that people will leave power in 2 years or 3 or 5 days or whatnot. I can identify a power struggle when I see one.

    And I am glad that the vast majority of my people are not going to wake up tomorrow morning with a demand to bring Levon to power. Let’s separate the demand for change and improvement (which we all have) with becoming a tool in someone else’s game.

    And one more point regarding your last sentence, for the sake of completeness, “change” can also mean change for the worse. Thinking that life in Armenia cannot get worse is beyond naive. It is living in a dreamworld.

  18. you are 100% right. everyone, including yourself, knows it would have been more of the same and worse under SS. that’s why they took to the streets, even if it meant along side a self serving figure like LTP.

    classy. the suicide bomber comment

  19. the people know exactly what they’re doing too. we are using LTP as a hammer against a machine – ever think of that? we have only limited tools.

    TM, who is using who as a hammer? It is LTP that is using part of Armenians as a hammer for his revenge. He already has experience using Karabakh to power and later abandoning it. Now he wants to use “democracy”.

  20. Արթ ջան,թողնելով մի կողմ Վարդանիկի անբարոյական կերպարը,չես կարծում ,որ նույն Գալա-ի պարտքը փակելու համար,Լևենենք շատ հանգիստ կարող էին այդ գումարը վճարել:
    Ցավոք սրտի,կրկին էժանագին ՓիաՌի ետևից են ընկել,իմանալով Վարդանիկի աննորմալ խասյաթի մասին:
    Կարևորը սադրանքներով շուխուռ գցելն ա….
    Ու մի ասա,որ Լևոնենք այդ 80 000 դոլարը չունեին հենց իրանց երեսից տուժած Գալա ին օգնեին…

    How many people here watched GALA at least once?

  21. Տիգրան ջան – Լեւոնենք դիշովկա են :( Իսկ ԳԱԼԱ-ն փակել չի կարելի:

    I’ve watched GALA a lot

  22. I HAVE TO STATE HERE THAT THE GYUMRI MAYOR IS A SON OF A BITCH, the car driven by Levon Barseghyan, the most urdent supporter of GALA TV was put on fire yesterday night. There will soon be a post on this blog on English with some details, meanwhile, check out the Armenian version.

  23. Իմ կարծիքով Գալան պետք է փակվեր,բայց ոչ թե քաղաքական հաղորդումների համար,այլ ցածորակության համար: Մի տարի Գյումրիում ինձ համոզեցին լիովին:
    Կապված Լևոն Բարսեղյանի հետ,ես չեմ հասկանում ինչն է այդ մարդուն անընդհատ դրդում պրոբլեմների:
    Նամանավանդ վերջերս:
    Իսկ Վարդանիկի ու նրա զավակ Սպոի պահով քո արտահայտած կարծիքը լիովին կիսում եմ:

  24. Գալան անորակ TV է` ես դա միշտ ասել եմ, սակայն դա չի նշանակում, որ այն պետք է փակել` քաղաքական դրդապատճառներով, երկիրը խայտառակելու ու իշխանությունների կողմից անօրինական քայլեր ձեռնարկելու ճանապարհով: Դա առնվազն հերթական հիմարությունն է իշխանությունների կողմից` ախր, դե արի ու մի ասա, այ ախմախներ, ինչ վնաս կարող է իրենց տալ ԳԱԼԱն, իր չնչին լսարանով…

  25. իսկ որ որակից սկսենք խոսել, կերլի է սկսել ԱԼՄ-ից, ու վերջացնել Հ1-ով` Հայաստանում հեռարձակվող միակ որակյալ հեռուստատեսությունը ռուսական Культура-ն է

  26. Երկիր Մեդիան իմ կազմակերպության հետ պարտնյոր հեռուստատեսություն է, դրա համար ես մտածեցի, որ անունը տալը կլինի` conflict of interest :)

  27. mike,
    cannot you guys look beyond ltp? did i not state it clearly enough? whether ltp feels he is using people for his own revenge or not, DO NOT underestimate your brothers and sisters – in the streets for a normal civilized country that lives up to its history. get over ltp.

    NOBODY wanted SS. not even those that thought RK was not too bad. the guy is a baffoon and is a complete embarrassment to all Armenians of all time. period. we all know this. you can focus on all the negative of ltp (and nobody disagrees that there is much negative about him), but just TRY to understand that the regular people in the square were not holding him as some kind of demagogue or thinking his rule was so great, but were grasping to the last bit of positive hope that anyone can remember – the late 80s and the beautiful energy of unity and vision.

    it is sad that all we can find for a figurehead is ltp, but that’s the way it is now. if arthur or raffi or vazgen could have pulled it off, then they would have. i would have supported them in the same way.

    they all suck – but the way of SS is rabiz and empty. there are no poets or architects down that path. just more leather jackets and shiny phones. at least with ltp there is a hope (maybe small small) that Armenia can be great again. not rich, not gaudy, not shiny, not russian, but – Great.

  28. tm it seems you see the world as black and white: SS = evil, LTP = the great white hope, etc. I am proud of our people and glad that few others see it that simply/naively.

  29. AH, what are you reading???? we’ll try it again:

    it is sad that all we can find for a figurehead is ltp, but that’s the way it is now. if arthur or raffi or vazgen could have pulled it off, then they would have. i would have supported them in the same way. they all suck – but the way of SS is rabiz and empty. there are no poets or architects down that path. just more leather jackets and shiny phones. at least with ltp there is a hope (maybe small small) that Armenia can be great again. not rich, not gaudy, not shiny, not russian, but – Great.

    “It is a mistake to reduce this crisis to a conflict of personalities. This was not Serzh Sargsyan vs. Levon Ter-Petrosyan. This was institutionalized corruption vs. the frustration of perpetual alienation.

    These protestors were not, indiscriminately, ne’r do wells fancying a fight. These were people fed up with every election season having to choose whether to have their votes bought or have them stolen. These were people sickened by hearing international do-gooders call elections “in line” with democracy, when these oppressed voters know better.”

  30. Well put: the movement which has been partly crystallized around Ter-Petrossyan, is honest and sincere genuine grassroots movement for opposition. While not in an articulate manner, it is for genuine democracy in Armenia. The public who take part in it, honestly and deeply believe that they, that us, the Armenians, can and should and will create a functioning democracy. Despite the context, despite the postponed war, and despite lack of political culture of democracy. The majority of them, not knowing how in fact to go for it, chose their representative, the tank which can break down the current impasse and help them to go for the realization of their aims, the figure of the first president of Armenia. They know that this is a deeply imperfect figure, but they felt that he might have power enough, as different from all the other opposition sugarheads, to turn the situation upside down. http://www.pf-armenia.org/blogs/politics-and-international-relations/?tx_wecdiscussion%5Bsingle%5D=77

  31. Nice prose, but really, if the BEST that the Armenian people can do is rally around the most discredited, cynical, sell-out LTP, then I suggest we all work hard, cultivate real leaders who have at least some interests of the Armenian nation at heart and prepare for parliamentary elections, which are in only 4 years.

    Thankfully, the people did not rally around LTP en masse. Aside from a few radical oppositionists, a HUGE majority of the population neither voted for LTP, nor participated in any of his dance-a-thons or rallies at any time during this campaign/protest. The real grassroots of Armenia are smart enough not to plant themselves around an Agent Orange named LTP.

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