The Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression (CPFE) in Armenia, which I am a member of, released on Tuesday its annual report on “Violated rights of journalists and media in Armenia.” As the organization’s website is currently under construction and this report is not fully available online, I’ve decided to post the full English version of the report below.
COMMITTEE TO PROTECT FREEDOM OF EXRPESSION
ON VIOLATED RIGHTS OF JOURNALISTS AND MEDIA IN ARMENIA*
In terms of intensity of attacks on free expression and the number of violations of rights of journalists and media year 2009 can be conventionally subdivided into two unique periods: the first half a year was characterized by the same negative trends that were most distinct in the previous year, 2008, the second half was a period of relative calm.
In early 2009 the influential international organizations published annual reports on the human rights situations in 2008. In these documents the situation in Armenia was described in very critical tone. In particular, “Human Rights Watch”, “Freedom House”, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and others in their conclusions stated that in 2008 the law enforcement bodies of Armenia impeded the professional activities of journalists, that cases of intimidation and violence against media representatives that remain unpunished result in self-censorship and restricted freedom of expression.
Meanwhile in the first half of 2009 such infringements were none the less than in 2008, which was unrivaled in this regard within the past decade. On October 20, 2009 “Reporters without Borders” (RSF) international organization published its annual world media freedom index. The research was administered in 175 counties and was based on the assessment of the developments that had taken place during the period of September 1, 2008 till August 31, 2009. The continuing deterioration of Armenia’s index (111th place) that had gone down 8 ranks as compared to the previous research is explained by RSF to be due to the facts of physical violence against journalists as well as the political tension that adversely affected the media and the society in general.
With regard to violence and other forms of pressure against journalists and media, the peak coincided with the elections to Yerevan Council of Elderly that took place on May 31, 2009. In this regard, the situation largely resembled that during the presidential campaign of 2008. Again the sad trend was confirmed: with the domestic political tensions increasing the attacks on free media become more frequent, too.
Overall, in 2009 fewer violations of rights of journalists and media than in 2008 were recorded. Yet, the overall situation and the trends cannot but be alarming. As statistics show (based on the findings of the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression), even during a relatively calm year Armenia has quite a number of right infringements of media and journalists. Below a comparative table of findings for 2008 and 2009 is presented.
|Types of infringements / years||2008||2009|
|Physical violence against journalists||18||11|
|Pressure on media and their staff||16||14|
|Violation of the right to seek and impart information||14||13|
The differentiation of infringements of rights of journalists and media as used by the Committee is somewhat conventional. In particular, there are incidents, in which, say, the impeding to the right to seek and impart information is accompanied by actual violence against is journalist. Hence the authors of the report took the freedom of classing the violations with the type they found more appropriate. Yet, despite this conventionality, the proposed classification allows to gain better understanding of the overall picture of the violation of rights of journalists and media. Besides the infringements above, we have recorded also facts of implicit pressure and/or illegal restriction of freedom of media that can be qualified as implicit censorship.
Similarly to the previous years, the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression states that the data in the table are not exhausting and do not claim absolute accuracy. Under the circumstances the media representatives often prefer not to publicize the facts of being impeded from exercising professional activities, overlook the various threats to their address or prefer to overcome the appearing problems and illegal restrictions on their own. For this reason the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression is confident that the real number of violations of the rights of journalists and media is much greater than the one recorded. The present report lists the most significant cases of such violations that were at the focus of public attention.
PHYSICAL VIOLENCE AGAINST JOURNALISTS
On January 16 by the building of the court of general jurisdiction of Shengavit community of Yerevan an incident occurred that affected the photo correspondent of “Aravot” and “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun” newspapers Gagik Shamshian. The journalist was shooting the protest action to support the defendants on the so-called “Case of Seven” (the trial of the seven supporters of the First President of Armenia Levon Ter-Petrosian, charged with organization of mass disorder and attempt of violent seizure of state power). A policeman struck him as Shamshian was shooting the pickets. Falling down, Shamshian hit his head against a post. Having come back to the editorial office of “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun” the journalist felt bad and was taken to hospital. The medical examination diagnosed him with a brain concussion after an x-ray. Gagik Shamshian also stated he had a photograph of the policeman who struck him. On January 19 the journalist was summoned to the police of Shengavit community to testify. The victimized journalist said that criminal proceedings were instituted to be further suspended due to absence of corpus delicti.
On February 11 at the court of general jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash communities of Yerevan an incident between court bailiffs and journalists occurred. During the session on the case of the former RA General Prosecutor Gagik Jangirian, charged with violence against a representative of power, the court bailiff, upon an instruction from Judge Zhora Vardanian suggested that journalists leave the court room. Due to this an argument ensured between the journalists and court bailiffs in the course of which the jacket of the photo correspondent of “Aravot” and “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun” newspapers Gagik Shamshian. He informed the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression that he gave written testimony in the police of Kentron community. Criminal proceedings were instituted with the jacket being sent for an examination to determine the degree of the damage. Yet the case was soon suspended due to absence of corpus delicti. The damage was assessed to be 2,000 AMD that Gagik Shamshian refused to accept.
On March 13 at Yerevan State Linguistic University named after Brusov the photo correspondent of “Aravot” and “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun” newspapers Gagik Shamshian was beaten severely. That day the students of the University held a protest action by the office of the youth NGO “Miasin” that was reported on by a number of media. When the action participants came back to the University, the journalists also decided to enter the building and to interview the administration of the university, yet they were stopped by the security guards of the university. Yet, the photo journalist Gagik Shamshian managed to pass through the electronic gate and start shooting. This resulted in a conflict between him and one of the guards, and the security guards of the university gave a severe beating to the journalist. The representatives of other media, students and staff of the University managed to stop the violence. The Rector of the University Suren Zolyan who came down to the University lobby asked the journalists to leave the premises and answered their questions in the street. After this the interview Gagik Shamshian felt bad, and colleagues from other media helped him gain the office of the Armenian Service of the Radio Liberty. There the condition of the journalist deteriorated, he started bleeding and an ambulance was called that took him to “Nairi” medical center. There the journalist was diagnosed with an injury of urinal tract and inner hemorrhage. The journalist was taken to reanimation, and then was treated in-house until March 19.
On this incident the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, the Yerevan Press Club, Media Diversity Institute-Armenia, Transparency International anti-corruption center, Helsinki Committee of Armenia released a statement, noting in particular: “Regardless of the circumstances under which a conflict between a journalist and the university security officers occurred, the cruelty of the security guards has no excuse”.
The incident was also condemned by the RA Human Rights Defender Armen Harutiunian, a number of political associations and public organizations.
On March 14 the rectorate of the Yerevan State Linguistic University named after Bursov adopted a statement, qualifying the actions of Gagik Shamshian as “cynical, inappropriate for a journalist”. According to the statement, Gagik Shamshian “trespassed the University rounds, hindered the academic process”, and “when he was committing unlawful actions and incident occurred” that left the journalist injured.
According to the report of the RA Police of March 16, the police of the Kentron community of Yerevan instituted criminal proceedings on Article 164 (“Hindering the legitimate professional activities of journalist”) and 118 (“Beatings”) of the RA Criminal Code. In particular, it was noted that the head and two officers of the security service of the Linguistic University were detained and further released with a commitment not to leave the city. On July 14 the criminal proceedings stopped due to the resolution on pardon, made by the RA National Assembly on June 19, 2009.
In the evening of April 8, during the protest action of the opposition on the Northern Avenue the correspondent of “A1+” TV company David Jalalyan was assaulted. The journalist told the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression that the police officers attacked him and beat him when he was trying to photograph their actions to suppress the demonstration. Upon the return to “A1+” editorial office the condition of David Jalalyan deteriorated. He was taken to hospital where he received medical aid. With regard to the incident journalistic organizations (Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, Yerevan Press Club, Media Diversity Institute-Armenia, Internews Media Support NGO, “Asparez” Journalist’s Club) released a statement noting in particular: “This is not the first case when the work of media representatives is illegally impeded by the law enforcement bodies themselves, who are sure of impunity”. The document also contained a demand to the RA Police to “start and internal investigation and to hold the people guilty of this violence accountable”.
On April 30, at about 5 o’clock in the morning, at the entrance to his house in Yerevan the coordinator of “Armenia Today” news agency Argishti Kivirian was severely beaten. Strangers with bats attacked him as he was coming home from the office, located in the same building. Argishti Kivirian, in a grave condition, with multiple injuries, also head traumas, was taken to “Erebuni” medical center.
On the same day 11 journalistic and human rights NGOs made statement noting that the solution of issues by violence is becoming a serious threat for the society and that “state bodies do not take effective steps to counteract this threat”. The document also stressed that “those guilty of attacking journalists have not faced trial to this day”. The authors of the statement called upon the law enforcement bodies to disclose the crime against Argishti Kivirian and to hold those guilty accountable.
The RA Human Rights Defender Armen Harutiunian, deputies of Armenian parliament, a number of political parties condemned this violence. The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Milks Haraszti sent a letter to the RA Minister of Foreign Affairs Edward Nalbandian and the RA General Prosecutor Aghvan Hovsepian in which he noted that the “lack of progress in the cases of violence against journalists creates atmosphere of impunity for perpetrators and can provoke new cases of violence against media representatives”.
The press-secretary of the RA President Samvel Farmanian released a communication that the head of the state gave appropriate instructions to the law enforcement bodies. Meanwhile, the police instituted criminal proceedings on the attack on Argishti Kivirian by Article 117 of the RA Criminal Code – “Intentional infliction of slight injuries”. This caused strong criticism from lawyers and human rights organizations who noted that the numerous injuries inflicted by bats that required a week’s hospitalization and other circumstances of the crime cannot be qualified only as “slight injuries”.
Further on the case was directed to the Investigative Department of the RA National Security Service, where it was re-qualified to Article 34-104 of the RA Criminal Code – attempted murder. On July 11 the court of general jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash communities of Yerevan chose arrest to be the preventive punishment for two people, charged with attempted murder of Argishti Kivirian.
In the evening of May 6 the observer of “Shant” TV company Nver Mnatsakanian was assaulted. Two strangers who were awaiting the journalist by the entrance to his house attacked him, overthrew him and fled. Nver Mnatsakanian was taken to hospital where he was diagnosed with “slight injuries” and necessary medical aid was provided. The journalist said he was confident the incident was related to his professional activities.
On May 7 the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, Yerevan Press Club, 7 Internews Media Support NGO, Media Diversity Institute-Armenia, Femida NGO, TEAM Research Center, “Asparez” Journalist’s Club, Vanadzor Press Club, Transaprency International Anti-Corruption Center, Helsinki Committee of Armenia, Civil Society Institute, Vanadzor Office of Helsinki Citizen’s Assembly made a statement. The document stated that “intimidation and physical violence against journalists are becoming social calamity”. Condemning the crime against Nver Mnatsakanian, 12 NGOs stressed that their statement should not be regarded as purely yet another appeal to find and punish those guilty: “One cannot stop the wave of violence by appeals only, radical and effective measures are necessary. These measures should first of all be taken by the authorities, by law enforcement bodies, whose idleness, inability to disclose all previous incidents enable the criminals who target the free speech to act even more impudently and recklessly”.
Mashtots department of Yerevan police instituted criminal proceedings on the assault of Nver Mnatsakanian by clause 3 of part 2 of Article 113 of the RA Criminal Code (“Intentional infliction of injuries of medium gravity by a group of individuals or an organized group”). On this case on August 21 the head of the RA Police Alik Sargsian at his press-conference said the assault on the journalist was a coincidence, a misunderstanding took place, the assaulters had mistaken Nver Mnatsakanian for a father of some girl that they were following, and the incident had nothing to do with the son of businessman Hrant Vardanian, the owner of “Grand Candy” company. This, according to the head of the Police, was allegedly confirmed by Nver Mnatsakanian, too. Yet the journalist himself denied the statement by the Head of the Police, announcing in an interview to “Report.am”: “I regret that our order guards are in this condition. If not publicly, but still on every occasion I repeatedly said these were they (the people who followed him, note by CPFE), and the Niva car that was after me was owned by “Grand Candy”.
As it has already been noted, the incidents, candling cases of violence against journalists, were most unmoors on May 31, the day of elections to the Yerevan Council of Elderly.
Thus, at about 10.30 in the morning at polling station 9/01 a conflict occurred between the RA National Assembly Deputy Levon Sargsian who arrived here with his security guards and the correspondents of opposition newspapers “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun”, “Haik”, “Zhamanak”. The MP demanded that his bodyguards put journalists Gohar Vezirian, Tatev Mesropian and Marine Kharatian out of the polling station. As a result of the conflict, accompanied by mutual insults and abuse, the correspondent of “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun” Gohar Vezirian was beaten. The recorder and the mobile phone of Marine Kharatian, the correspondent of “Zhamanak” daily, Marine Kharatian were taken. All the three journalists had to leave the territory of the polling station.
At about 15.00 at polling station 8/01 violence was committed against the correspondent of “Haikakan Zhamanak” Artur Hovakimian. The latter, having seen that a group of young people of athletic build is trying to stuff the ballot box, started photographing. Having noticed this, young men came up to the correspondent, tore the editorial certificate off his neck, snatched the photo camera out of his hand and in insulting remarks demanded to leave the polling station. When Artur Hovakimian said he was doing his job, one of this group said: “And my job is to break your skull”. Similarly to the previous episode, the journalist had to leave the polling station. The camera was returned to Artur Hovakimian, with all the shots deleted.
At polling station 8/05 at about 16.20 correspondent of “168 Zham” newspaper Armine Avetian, journalist of online publication Tert.am Lilit Tadevosian and the observer of the Transparency International Anti-Corruption Center Sona Ayvazian. They noticed that a group of people who entered the polling station intend to stuff the ballot box. Sona Ayvazian tried to impede this and the journalist attempted to photograph the situation. In response to this the people, turning out the arms of the journalists and the observer, started pulling them away from the ballot box, and did stuff it afterwards. Accord gin to Armine Avetian, her camera and recorder were taken away, but were later returned as no compromising materials were found recorded. In the clash the journalist was slightly injured. On her behalf the correspondent of Tert.am Lilit Tadevosian informed that when she did try to photograph the “scene” by the ballot box, she was pushed aside and disallowed to do so.
On this very day, at about 17.30, at the polling station 7/25 a young man attacked the correspondent of “Aravot” newspaper Nelly Grigorian, when she was trying to photograph that man threatening an opposition candidate. Having noticed the camera he attacked the journalist, seized her clothes and started shaking her, asking “who let you take pictures here?”, then snatched the photo camera out of Nelly Grigorian’s hands and left. When the journalist announced to the surrounding people that her work as a journalist was impeded and this was a criminal action, some of them ran after the perpetrator. Soon the camera was returned to Nelly Grigorian, but with no memory card.
On June 1, the next day after the elections, the press-release of the RA General Procuracy reported the institution of criminal proceedings on the facts of violence against journalists and observers as well as ballot box stuffing at the polling stations of Malatia-Sebastia community. Yet none of those who committed crimes against media representatives were punished.
On June 4 at the court of general jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash communities of Yerevan hearings on the attack of the head of “Investigative Journalists” NGO Edik Baghdasarian started. The attack had taken place on November 17, 2008. That day three perpetrators who were awaiting the journalist by his office, hit him with a stone on his head and beat him. Edik Baghdasrian was hospitalized with brain concussions. On this fact the Kentron police Department of Yerevan instituted criminal proceedings by Article 258 of the RA Criminal Code (“Public Disorder”), that was further re-qualified to Article 113 (part 2, cl. 3) of the RA Criminal Code (“Intentional infliction of injuries of medium gravity by a group of people or organized group”). The investigation introduced charges to Karen Harutiunian who faced the trial as one of the assaulters of Edik Baghdasarian.
Meanwhile, the communication on the start of the trial, published on the same day in the online publication of “Investigative Journalists”, “Hetq”, stressed: “Law enforcement bodies have not found the two who committed the assault together with the 20-year-old Karen Harutiunian…, neither have they found the orderer of the crime. Karen Haruitunian did not only plead not guilty but also refused to testify. However, the investigation thought the charges were proven”.
On June 23 the court sentenced Karen Harutiunain to 5 years’ imprisonment.
On August 7, during the visit of the RA First President Levon Ter-Petrosian to Shirak region, where meetings with the relatives of prisoners of the case of “March 1, 2008”, an incident occurred with the photo correspondent of “Aravot” and “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun” Gagik Shamshian. The journalist was attacked and abused by the Chairman of the Board of Armenian National Movement (ANM) Ararat Zurabian, who tried to take the camera out of his hands. A skirmish started that stopped only after the representatives of Armenian National Congress members who were accompanying Ter-Petrosian interfered, along with various media representatives. Gagik Shamshian thinks that Zurabian was indignant either at not being photographed with the first president or the fact that the photo correspondent asked one of those present to be photographed with Levon Ter-Petrosian against the gate to Shirak region. The next day the journalist boycotted the invitation of ANC to accompany its representatives and cover a similar trip to Vanadzor. The incident was reported to the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression on “hotline” by Gagik Shamshian himself. To hear the second opinion in the conflict, the CPFE addressed an official letter to Ararat Zurabian asking for clarifications as to the incident. Yet the head of the ANM did not reply either this letter or similar inquiries by a number of media.
PRESSURE ON MEDIA AND THEIR STAFF
Similarly to the previous years, the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression recorded numerous facts of pressure on media and journalists using economic, political legal and other levers. The abundance of litigations involving media and their staff is also noteworthy.
On January 14, in accordance with the ruling of the RA Court of Cassation, in the court of primary jurisdiction of Shirak region a new stage of hearings of the dispute between the Gyumri municipality and the founder of “GALA” TV company, “Chap” LLC regarding the right to use the city TV tower. It should be noted that the litigation on the case started in 200 and became a component of the total pressure, exerted by the authorities on the private regional TV company, that expressed its readiness to provide the air to all candidates and their representatives during the presidential election campaign and refused to obey the ultimatum demands and threats of state structures and officials of various rank.
On October 31 2008 the Court of Cassation abolished the ruling of the primary jurisdiction court of February 29, 2009, according to which the “GALA” founder was stop the use of the city TV tower and to dissemble the equipment installed there. The case was directed to re-consideration of the court of general jurisdiction of Shirak region.
At the session of January 14 the city administration submitted to the court the ruling of the Gyumri Council of Elderly of December 25, 2008, allowing the municipality to lease the TV tower to the company for a year’s time with a monthly rent of 100,000 AMD. The representative of “CHAP” on his behalf noted that the owner of the company was not invited to the session of the Council of Elderly and was notified about the resolution only on January 13, 2009, that is, a day before the court session. Besides, in the opinion of “CHAP” the rent is apparently unrealistically high, “GALA” founder has information confirming that the balance cost of the TV tower is 760,000 AMD, and the rent thus exceeds the balance cost by over 60%.
The attorney of “CHAP” filed two motions with the court: on getting a certificate from the Gyumri territorial division of the RA State Cadastre regarding the possibility of another city TV tower to be used by “GALA” TV company and on the administration of technical basement of the TV tower that became the subject of the litigation. The court accepted by motions. The litigations were to continue after the appropriate certificates were obtained. Yet they were never received by the court, and the hearings of the case did not resume.
Meanwhile, on March 13, on another case, considered in 2008 and related to tax audit and a fine of 25 million 212 thousand AMD, “GALA” founder filed a suit with the European Court of Human Rights. The conclusions of the Tax Service were challenged by the company in the Administrative Court and Court of Appeals, yet with no success. The founder of “GALA” substantiates the suit with the European court saying its right to free expression, fair trial and to property were violated.
On February 5 by the entrance to the RA Government the then Minister of Agriculture of Armenia Aramayis Grigorian started threatening the photo correspondent of “Aravot” and “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun” newspapers Gagik Shamshian. The journalist was shooting the protesters who gathered here as well as the ministers coming for the session of the Government. When he saw and started photographing the approaching Ministers of Sport and Agriculture, the latter suddenly got irritated and attacked Shamshian saying: “You, bastard, isn’t it enough to make secret shots of us? I’ll show now…” The Minister of Agriculture was stopped by the Minister of Sport and Youth Issues Armen Grigorian who said the journalist was simply doing his work. Yet Aramayis Grigorian did not calm down and threatened to come back after the session and settle accounts with Shamshian. The journalists decided to wait for him, but the Minister called his car to other entrance and left. The fact was covered in “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun” and “Aravot” newspapers. Yet the incident had no consequences for the Minister.
On February 19 the RA Court of Cassation declined the application of “A1+” TV company founder, “Meltex” LLC, regarding the reconsideration of the two rulings of the Court of Cassation. The application was admitted for consideration in January 2009 and referred to rulings of February 27, 2004 and April 23, 2004 on suits of “Meltex” versus National Commission on Television and Radio. On February 27, 2004 the Court of Cassation left unchanged the ruling of the RA Commercial Court of January 21, that did not secure the demand of “Meltex” to annul the decision of the National Commission on Television and Radio to grant “Cinemax” LLC a broadcast license for 63rd UHF of Yerevan (claimed also by “A1+” TV company). On April 23, 2004 the Court of Cassation left in force the ruling of the Commercial Court of March 23 that rejected the suit of “Meltex” on providing the company with specific justification of the refusals to grant it a license in competitions held on June 11 and July 18, 2003.
The present application of “Meltex” to the Court of Cassation was due to the new circumstance, the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights of June 17, 2008 on the suit of “A1+” founder versus the Republic of Armenia. The European Court had recognized the refusals to grant “Meltex” a broadcast license to be a violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, i.e., of the right of the applicant to freely impart information and ideas. Yet the decision of Court of Cassation said in particular that the court rulings challenged by “A1+” founder were made in accordance with the legislation in force in 2004 and are not subject to revision.
Due to this the “A1+” founder addressed the RA Constitution Court to recognize Part 1 of Article 204/208 of the RA Civil Procedural Code contradicting to Constitution and hindering the citizens from enjoying the right of effective judicial protection. This very provision became the basis for the ruling adopted by the Court of Cassation. At the session of December 15 the Constitution Court delayed the hearing of the case till February 23, 2010.
On February 24 “Haikakan Zhamanak” newspaper published an article “Now the Military Police. Was a New Bug Being Installed?”, reporting that on Saturday February 21 at one of the Yerevan streets an employee of the daily, the Executive Editor Hrach Hakobian, was detained. As the article noted, Hrach Hakobian was taken to the RA Military Police, where he was kept for 9 hours. As “Haikakan Zhamanak” writes, representatives of the Military Police tried to determine whether Hrach Hakobian was in contact with some personality wanted by the police. During Hakobian’s stay at the Police, the article goes on saying, his personal belongings were seized, including the keys to the editorial office and the mobile phone. Quoting other details of what had happened, “Haikakan Zhamanak” supposed that “the force structures had implemented some planned operation” against the daily.
On February 25 in the vicinity of Nor Nork police department of Yerevan an incident occurred in the course of which the head of the criminal investigation department Tigran Muradian attempted to exert pressure on the photo correspondent of “Aravot” and “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun” newspapers Gagik Shamshian. The journalist photographed the moment when opposition activist Leva Eghiazarian was brought to the police. The RA NA Deputies Zaruhi Postanjian and Armen Martirosian, as well as the members of fast response group of the RA Human Rights Defender who were interested in the circumstances of the detainment were answered by the police that no such person was brought to the department. When Gagik Shamshian showed the photographs made to all those present, the head of the Criminal Investigation Department Tigran Muradian attacked him with swearing and threatened to break the camera. The NA deputies informed the head of the department about the incident, who apologized to the journalist for the actions of his officer.
On March 20 the Commission on Early Release refused the petition of “Erebuni” criminal executive institution on the early release of “Zhamanak” daily Chief Editor, Arman Babajanian, sentenced to 3.5 years of imprisonment for document fraud to avoid compulsory military service.
On March 23 the heads of “Aravot”, “Hayk’, “Hraparak’, “Taregir”, “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun”, “168 Zham”, “ Haykakan Zhamanak”, “Zhamanak” newspapers, “A1+” TV company, “Lragir.am” online publication released a statement, which questions the lawfulness of the decision of the Commission on Early Release. On March 24 the statement was also joined by “Azg” daily. Petitions on Arman Babajanian’s early release were turned down four times. On August 4 the commission did release the Chief Editor of “Zhamanak” Newspaper early.
On March 24, court of general jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash communities of Yerevan started the hearings on the suit of free-lance journalist Gagik Shamshian, accused on part 1 of Article 343 of RA Criminal Code (“Disrespect to Court”). As it has been reported, on August 5, 2008 during a session of the court of general jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash communities of Yerevan Gagik Shamshian was dismissed from the courtroom upon the order of Judge Gagik Avetisian. At first the journalist was locked in the basement of the court and was later taken to the Kentron Police Department, where he stayed for over two hours. The criminal proceedings were instituted in September, and the charge was brought against journalist on December 24, 2008.
On April 17, 2009 the court returned Gagik Shamshian guilty and imposed a fine in the amount of 350,000 AMD (about $ 950). The photojournalist challenged this sentence in the upper court, yet the RA Criminal Court of Appeals left it unchanged on June 15.
In a month, on July 15 the Criminal Court of Appeals reconsidered the case of Gagik Shamshian and decided to apply the resolution of the RA National Assembly of June 19, 2009 “On Pardon”. The photo journalist who thought himself to be not guilty, filed a complaint to the RA Court of Cassation and the RA Procuracy, demanding to annul the resolution on pardon. On September 16, 2009, on the basis of the cassation complaint of the RA Deputy Prosecutor and stopped the case in terms of pardon. The Mandatory Execution Service demanded that the journalist pay a fine. Shamshian paid it in two parts, 200 thousand and 150 thousand AMD and started preparing his file for European Court of Human Rights.
On March 31, court of general jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash communities of Yerevan started the hearings on the suit of Gohar Vezirian, correspondent of “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun” newspaper, accused on Part 1 of Article 343 of RA Criminal Code (“Disrespect to Court”). As it has been reported, on August 6, 2008 during a session of the court of general jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash communities of Yerevan Gohar Vezirian was ousted from the courtroom upon the order of Judge Gagik Avetisian. For over an hour and a half the journalist was held in the room, intended for defendants, and then she was sent to the Kentron Police Department. After staying at the Police for more than two hours, Gohar Vezirian was released. The criminal proceedings were instituted in September and the charge was brought against the “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun” correspondent on December 24, 2008.
On May 14, 2009 the court said Gohar Vezrian was guilty and sentenced her to a fine of 350,000 AMD.
On July 3 the Criminal Court of Appeals, basing on the appeal, filed by the journalist, abolished the sentence of the court of general jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash communities of Yerevan and applied the resolution of the RA National Assembly “On Pardon” of June 19, 2009.
On April 23, court of general jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash communities of Yerevan started the hearings on the suit of Levon Kocharian, younger son of RA Second President Robert Kocharian, against “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily – on the protection of honor, dignity and business reputation of the plaintiff (since the daily is not a legal entity it could not act as a respondent, further the daily’s founder, “Dareskizb” LLC became the respondent). The reason of the lawsuit was the editorial “The Adventures of Robert’s Son in Dubai”, published in “Haykakan Zhamanak” on February 6, 2009. The piece informed about Levon Kocharian’s detention by police of Dubai, UAE, in the end of 2008. The plaintiff demands to oblige the daily to publish a refutation and to compensate for moral losses in the amount of 16 million and 120 thousand AMD.
On June 5 the court announced its verdict, securing the demands of the plaintiff partially: the newspaper was committed to publishing a refutation, to payment of 3 million 620 thousand AMD and compensation of judicial duty of 72 thousand AMD.
The founder of the daily filed an appeal with the next-level court to reconsider the ruling. On September 11 at the RA Civil Court of Appeals hearings started, continuing on September 17. On October 2 the ruling was announced, partially securing the appeal of “Haikakan Zhamanak” founder. The Court of Appeals reduced the fine amount by 620 thousand AMD. Yet the founder of the daily, seeking complete dismissal of the charges, filed a cassation complaint with the RA Court of Cassation on October 27.
On July 10 court of general jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash communities of Yerevan released the judgment on the suit of Ijevan municipality (Tavush region) versus “Investigative Journalists” NGO, the founder of “Hetq” on-line. By the decision the suit was refused. The case hearings started on September 29, 2008 at Civil Court of Yerevan. The plaintiff demanded to refute the information discrediting the honor, dignity and business reputation of Ijevan Mayor Varuzhan Nersisian – as seen by the city administration to be present in the articles “Whose Pocket Receives Money from Sand Mine?” and “Will the Three Commissions Notice the Illegal Use of Sand?”. The articles were published in “Hetq” on May 5, 2008 and June 23, 2008, respectively, and also printed on May 20, 2008 and July 9, 2008, respectively, in the supplement to “Azg” daily, “Transparent Local Self-Government”. Besides, the plaintiff demanded that the expenses of 930 thousand AMD (about $ 3,100) made for the attorney services be compensated.
Later, as a result of judicial reform, the suit was transmitted to court of general jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash communities of Yerevan, which dismissed the demands of the plaintiff as groundless on July 10. Yet the Ijevan municipality addressed a complaint to the supreme court, and on November 13 the Civil Court of Appeals abolished the ruling of the court of Kentron and Nork-Marash communities and sent the case for re-consideration.
On July 13 around 30 heads of media, journalistic organizations of Armenia and Mountainous Karabagh made a statement to support the Chief Editor of “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily Nikol Pashinian. As it has been reported, in the beginning of March 2008 Nikol Pashinian was announced wanted within the criminal proceedings, instituted on the events of March 1, 2008 in Yerevan. On July 1, 2009 Nikol Pashinian voluntarily surrendered to the law enforcement bodies. He was charged with Articles 225 (“Mass riots”), 316 (“Violence against a representative of power“) and 225 prime (“Organizing and holding of a pubic event with breach of order stipulated by law”) of RA Criminal Code. Nikol Pashinian received a preventive punishment of arrest.
The amnesty, announced on June 19, 2009 by the ruling of RA National Assembly, has to be applied on Nikol Pashinian, stresses the statement. According to the ruling, the amnesty should be expanded on persons announced wanted, if they voluntarily surrender to the law enforcement bodies until July 31, 2009. The signatories called the authorities to release the journalist and continue the investigation within the charges brought against him. The authors of statement expressed their readiness to stand surety for the release of Chief Editor of “Haykakan Zhamanak” in terms of law.
Meanwhile, on August 28, the court of general jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash communities of Yerevan prolonged the term of preliminary imprisonment of Nikol Pashinian’s for two months. On October 20, at the court of general jurisdiction of Shengavit community of Yerevan the hearing of the case of the Chief Editor of “Haikakan Zhamanak” daily started. As of late December 1009 the trial had not ended. The court had not changed the preventive punishment of Nikol Pashinian even after he was registered as a candidate to a seat in the Parliament in precinct 10.
On September 24 the court of general jurisdiction of Avan and Nor Nork communities of Yerevan started hearing the suit of Radio “HAY” founder, “Radio ‘HAY’ ” LLC, versus RA National Assembly deputy Stepan Safarian, recently elected as Head of “Heritage” faction. The plaintiff demands to oblige the defendant to publish a refutation and apologize for the expression, discrediting the business reputation of Radio “HAY”. The reason for the suit became a phrase from a piece by Stepan Safarian, titled “Voyage, Voyage to Madrid and Dagestan”. The article was published in “Hraparak” daily on August 20, 2009. In the piece Styopa Safarian argues, in absentia, with one of the leaders of ruling Republican Party of Armenia. The deputy recalls some quotations made by the RPA leader during one of the two shows, “Armenian Feedback”, aired on Radio “HAY” on July 30 and July 31, 2009. The author of the article describes these shows as “a two-series concert ordered by the President’s administration”. During the trial the parties presented their stances and arguments. The litigation will continue in 2010.
On October 13 court of general jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash communities of Yerevan started hearing the case on the suit to protect the honor and dignity of Hrach Keshishian, General Producer of Public Television of Armenia, versus the founder of “Hraparak” daily, “Hraparak Oratert” LLC. The plaintiff demands to oblige “Hraparak Oratert” to compensate the moral lose in the amount of 5 million AMD (about $ 13,000) and to cover the costs of the lawyer in the amount of 2 million AMD. The reason of the suit was the article “Je t’aime, Je t’aime” on the private life of Hrach Keshishian, published in “Hraparak” on July 18, 2009 and its announcement, published on the eve, July 17. Keshishian stated he had nothing to do with the intimate scenes in the video, alluded to by the daily.
On the session of October 13 the judge divided the burden of evidence between the parties. The plaintiff has to prove that the pieces of “Hraparak” have discredited his honor and to justify the demanded sum. In its turn, the defendant has to prove the validity of the published information. At the session of November 6 at a closed-door session the video was viewed, after which the disk was sent to a technical assessment to identify the man in the intimate scenes. The litigation was to continue after the state non-profit organization “National Examination Bureau” submits its conclusion to the court.
On December 3 court of general jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash communities of Yerevan started hearing the case on the suit of “Ararat” Center for Strategic Research versus the Caucasus Institute Foundation. The suit was on the article of an expert from Turkey, published in the collection “Caucasian Neighborhood: Turkey and South Caucasus”, prepared and issued by the Caucasus Institute in 2008 through the materials of one of the conferences organized by it. According to the plaintiff, some phrases of the article, as well as the usage of the word “genocide” in quotes, denied in essence the Armenian Genocide of 1915 in Ottoman Turkey. The plaintiff demanded to oblige the defender to publish a refutation in a number of Armenian media (providing the list of media), stop the dissemination of the book, and pay off a compensation for moral loses of 1 AMD. “Ararat” Center also claimed to prohibit the further usage of the word “genocide” in quotes.
The Caucasus Institute made a petition to remove the case on the ground of absence of the trial subject. At the session of December 4 the court secured the petition and the case was removed.
On December 10 at the RA National assembly an incident between the member of parliament faction of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia Gagik Melikian and correspondent of “Haik” newspaper Arman Galoyan occurred. The deputy was indignant at the article of the journalist, “How can the poor guy know?”, published in the newspaper on December 3. Gagik Melikian called the correspondent into one of the faction’s room and abused him and threatened, seizing him by the clothes. The incident stopped owing to the interference of other deputies.
VIOLATION OF THE RIGHT TO SEEK AND IMPART INFORMATION
The range of violations of rights of journalists and media in this section is quite broad – from non-provision of information and/or impeding professional activities up to buying out the print runs of newspapers to prevent sales.
On January 9 correspondents of “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun”, “Aravot”, “Haikakan Zhamanak”, “Taregir”, “Zhamanak” newspapers, “A1+” TV company released a statement regarding the obstacles that they face in covering the trial on “The Case of Seven” (the separate trial of the case of seven supporters of the RA First President Levon Ter-Petrosian, charged with the organization of mass disorders and attempts for violent seizure of power). At the hearing of the case that started on December 19, 2008 in the court building of Shengavit community of Yerevan, the statement of the journalists stresses, the judge at chair, “with the consent of all parties ruled to make no restrictions on the activities of media – reporting on the court session, being present in the court room, making video, audio and photo records”. However, the statement goes on saying, at the subsequent three sessions the court bailiffs either did not allow the reporters in the courtroom, offering them to follow the process by monitors in a designated room. Meanwhile, the journalists say, the sessions were often held in half-empty courtrooms, and the protests of media representatives that no quality shots can be made from monitors remained unanswered. Qualifying the occurrence as obstruction of journalistic activities, violation of the RA Constitution and RA Law “On Mass Communication”, the signatories called on the relevant bodies to ensure the necessary conditions for their work, not to restrict the right of journalists and society to complete and comprehensive information on the trial.
On March 23, the RA Administrative Court released its ruling on the suit of Freedom of Information Center versus the administration of Nor-Nork community of Yerevan. The NGO suit demanded to recognize the actions of the community administration in answering to the inquiry unlawful, to commit it to providing with necessary information, to impose a fine on the Nor-Nork community Head David Petrosian in the amount of 50,000 AMD (around $ 130), as well as to compensate the amount of 4,000 AMD, paid by the NGO as a state duty for addressing the court.
On August 1, 2008 Freedom of Information Center made an inquiry to the administration of Nor-Nork community, asking for the number and the addresses of apartments, owned by the community, as well as for the court statistics regarding the eviction of residents from unprivatized apartments. The community did not answer to the inquiry and the NGO claimed the court. The hearings on the case started on January 26, 2009. In February the community of Nor-Nork provided with the requested information, and FOI Center recalled its demand to recognize the community actions in answering to the inquiry unlawful. On the session of March 6, the court considered the other two demands – on fine imposing on Nor-Nork Head and on expense compensation. On March 23, the court secured the suit partially, committing the Nor-Nork community of Yerevan to compensating 4,000 AMD paid by FOI Center as a state duty for addressing the court.
On June 1, at the car route Ashtarak-Yerevan the traffic police detained the photo correspondent of “Aravot” and “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun” newspapers Gagik Shamshian as he was trying to photograph the police posts preventing the people from entering Yerevan, where opposition rally was taking place. The journalist reported this by the hotline of the Committee to Protect freedom of Expression that, on its behalf, informed about this the staff of the RA Human Rights Defender. It was decided that a joint group be fast response be sent on site. Yet this was no longer necessary, Gagik Shamshian was set free, but he was not allowed to make shots.
On July 2 at the Administrative Court in Ejmiatsin the consideration of the suit of Freedom of Information Center versus the rural community Talvorik of Armavir region regarding the non-provision of information. The Center requested and did not receive the copy of 2008 budget of the rural administration as well as its use report, along with copies of resolutions of the communal Council of Elderly regarding land allocation in the second quarter of 2008. At the session of July 9 the head of the village provided the information requested.
On July 6 at the session of the RA Administrative Court in Vedi a similar suit was considered, filed by the Freedom of Information Center versus the rural community Elpin (Vayots Dzor region). Here, again, the rural administration provided the Center with the requested information, the budget copy for 2008 and a report on its execution. At the same time the Administrative Court ruled to fine the head of Elpin Khoren Avertisian for 50,000 AMD. The FOI Center qualified the ruling as unprecedented in the judicial practice of the country: for the first time the official, who violated the right to information, was punished.
On July 4 a number of media representatives were deprived of an opportunity to cover the work of the Writers’ Union conference. Upon the initiative of the head of this organization Levon Ananian, accreditation system was introduced that had never been applied before and that did not ensure equal opportunities for all media. In the opinion of the journalists who did not get permission to enter the building of the Writers’ Union, the new procedure was used to keep those media out who had been critical in reporting the unhealthy situation within the Writers’ Union. Levon Ananian in his numerous interview on the complaints of journalists noted nothing bad had happened, simple not every one was accredited. Yet in one of the TV programs the head of the Writers’ Union did express his anger at some media “who poke their nose into the affairs of the organization”.
On July 9 at the Administrative Court of Armenia the hearing of the suit of the Board Chairman of “Asparez” Journalist’s Club of Gyumri Levon Barseghyan versus the administration of the RA President started. The plaintiff demanded to oblige the administration of the head of the state to provide him with a copy of the letter of the former President of Armenia Robert Kocharyan thjat he sent in March 2008 in reply to the letter of the General Director of “Millennium Challenge” corporation John Danilovich.
On June 4, 2008 Levon Barseghyan, in accordance with the RA Law “On Freedom of Information” addressed a written request to the then Head of the RA President’s Office Hovik Abrahamyan, asking for the copy of this letter of Robert Kocharyan, yet he received no reply. The second similar inquiry, addressed to the Head of the President’s Office was answered in a refusal. A refusal to provide information was also given from the Control Service of the presidential administration that Levon Barseghyan addressed with a complaint.
At the court session of July 9 no representative of the RA President’s administration turned up. In the reply to the suit, as sent to the court, the Head of the President’s Office Karen Karapetyan substantiated the refusal to provide information by saying the letter of Robert Kocharyan to John Danilovich is not information. In the address Karen Karapetyan also asked the court to consider the case without the involvement of a representative from the President’s Office.
On October 9 the RA Administrative Court publicized the decision on rejecting the suit of Levon Barseghyan versus the administration of the RA President. The plaintiff filed a complaint with the RA Court of Cassation. The court returned it to Barseghyan on Novmber 25. The head of the journalistic association informed the CPFE that to protect his right to information he would be addressing the European Court of Human Rights.
On August 6 in Gyumri the police impeded the activities of picture crew of “Shant” TV channel of Gyumri who had arrived to cover the civilian protest action at municipality building. The policemen led by the Head of Police Department of Gyumri Shirak Shahnazarian took away the camera and moved it to a place from where it was impossible to shoot.
Qualifying the actions of the police officer as a violation of Article 4 of the RA Law “On Mass Communication” and Article 164 of the RA Criminal Code (“Impeding the legitimate professional activities of journalist”), the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression addressed the Head of the RA Police Alik Sargsian with an official letter asking whether internal investigation was made on the matter, and if so, what the results are. On its behalf, the Gyumri “Asparez” Journalist’s Club addressed an appropriate report to the RA procuracy. The inquiry of CPFE was answered by the Head of the RA Police Headquarters E. Ghazarian, who informed that the decision regarding the incident would be taken after all materials, prepared by Special Investigative Service are considered. On October 28 “Aravot” daily reported that the head of Gyumri police department Shirak Shahnazarian is dismissed from office.
On August 21 “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily informed that its previous issue of August 20, 2009 was bought up by unknown persons from the newsstands located in Kentron and Erebuni communities of Yerevan. Some of the subscribers did not get the issue. According to the daily, the action was conditioned by a piece about high-ranking employees of RA Prosecutor’s Office, published in “Haykakan Zhamanak” on August 20.
On August 27 in Vanadzor the representatives of Lori Regional Department of RA Service of Compulsory Execution of Court Acts impeded the activities of Larisa Paremuzian, correspondent of “Aravot” daily and “Hetq” online publication. The journalist arrived to Vanadzor on the alarm of residents who informed that representatives of the Compulsory Execution Service resort to violent methods while evicting them from their temporal habitations. Noticing that Larisa Paremuzian is taking photos and interviewing the residents, the compulsory executors took away her recorder and photo camera, and started to push her. As soon as Larisa Paremuzian presented her journalistic identity, they returned the recorder and the camera, though with deleted pictures. On August 31 RA Human Rights Defender Armen Harutiunian addressed a letter to Gevorg Daniela, RA Minister of Justice, suggesting to assign an internal investigation on the incident. Such investigation was held but those guilty remained undisclosed.
On November 13 the staff of “Business Style” LLC in Yerevan impeded the work of the journalists of “A1+” TV company. The journalist and the cameraman arrived on site, having learned about the conflict that arose when the company refused to implement to contract of RA NA deputy Zaruhi Postanjian. Having announced that they do not print political posters and are ready to return the money to the opposition politician, the staff of the company demanded the TV crew leave the territory of private company. Seeking to avoid the shootings, they attacked the cameraman, damaged the camera and tried to push the journalist Diana Markosian out of the building. The argument of the journalist that they are not shooting the premises of the company but rather report on conflict in which a public politician and an MP is involved had no impact.
Apart from impeding the work of the journalist, the company, in fact, assumed the role of a censor, deciding what kind of posters can be printed.
On November 28 the conference of the Republican Party of Armenia took place. The media were invited very selectively to cover the conference. In particular, the list of invitees did not include correspondents of a number of opposition newspapers – “Haikakan Zhamanak, “Chorrord Inknishkhanutiun, “Haik”, “Hraparak”, “Taregir”. In the opinion of independent experts, this was a discrimination measure that distinctly displayed the attitude of ruling circles to “not their” media.
The use of disguised methods of pressure on media and their staff, various tools of the so-called implicit censorship is today a most serious challenge for the journalistic community and news industry in general. Such restrictions of freedom of expression and media can be implemented also by introducing regressive amendments in media legislation and through abuse of regulatory functions of state structures, through biased court rulings and on the basis of various illegal measures. Below the facts are listed that, in our opinion, contain the danger of implicit censorship or can be qualified as its displays.
On July 6 at the RA National Assembly deputy Victor Dallakian introduced into circulation a draft law “On Amending the RA Law “On Mass Communication”, despite the negative evaluations by most journalistic associations. The document, in particular, calls to supplement the law in force by provisions on rights and responsibilities of journalists.
In the opinion of independent experts, while adding nothing new to the existing rights, the draft stipulates introduction of unjustified restrictions. As a number of journalistic organizations believe this is nothing more but an attempt of implicit pressure on media and their representatives through change of legislation. If this draft law is adopted, these restrictions can become a convenient tool to exert implicit censorship.
On July 22 RA Human Rights Defender Armen Harutiunian addressed a letter to RA National Assembly Chairman Hovik Abrahamian referring to the draft law “On Introducing Amendment and Supplements to the RA Law ‘On Mass Communication’”. By mentioning that the suggested amendments “caused a critic reaction by a number of media organizations”, Armen Harutiunian stressed that the main provisions of the draft contravene the Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, assuring the freedom of expression, as well as the case law of the European Court of Human Rights.
On July 30 the RA Government issued a negative opinion on this draft law, yet it has been included into the bigger agenda of the Parliament.
On August 21 a new Order of Journalists’ Accreditation in RA National Assembly was defined by the Decree of Parliament Speaker Hovik Abrahamian. A number of provisions of the Order cannot but raise concern. Likewise, Points 10 and 11 of the Order set forth the conditions of media accreditation, including the print media circulation, level of attendance of online publications and the frequency of their update, existence of regional and foreign TV companies reporting missions in Yerevan, etc. Even though such requirements do not contradict the Law “On Mass Communication”, at the same time they considerably hinder the coverage of the parliament activities and are groundless from the aspect of efficient journalistic work. Point 21 of the Order, stipulating the access of journalists by accreditation identities only during sessions of the National Assembly and the Standing Commissions, briefings, press conferences, parliament hearings, as well as other events announced by the NA press service, does not contradict the letter of law either. Nevertheless, the parliament is a permanent legislative body, functioning at the expense of state budget, hence, such a provision basically converges the possibility to cover the activities of deputies. Some conditions of anticipatory suspension of the accreditation also raise concern. In particular, the deprivation of accreditation if the journalist “has diffused untrue information about the National Assembly or the activities of the staff, affirmed by a court decision” (Subpoint “c” of Point 18) seems to be an excessive and groundless punishment. Notably this concerns the deprivation of the right of accrediting the media outlet whose representative has violated the aforesaid Subpoint. Point 23 of the Order on the responsibilities of journalists is also inappropriate. Specifically, this refers to provisions, binding the journalists “to respect the legal interests, the honor and dignity of the deputies and the National Assembly staff members” during the accomplishment of their professional activities (Subpoint “a”), and not to impede the realization of official duties of the deputies, staff members and other persons present at the sessions (Subpoint “b”). The rights and the interests of the abovementioned persons, listed in Point 23, are already protected by the national legislation. Thus, the content of accreditation order has to be limited, in general, by the description of technical procedures and specific work conditions.
On October 22 hearings on “The Broadcasting Digitalization Process and the Consequences of Its Implementation in Armenia” were held at RA National Assembly. The CoE expert, Alec Thomas, announced that there are unused frequencies in Yerevan and suggested to implement an audit on frequencies. This means that all statements by Armenian officials that broadcast licensing competitions are not held due to lack of vacant frequencies were untrue. In fact, the argument that was used by the authorities to evade a number of recommendations regarding the need for such competitions and the participation of “A1+” TV company stopped being valid. At the same time, the statement of the CoE expert can be a justification of the opinion of experts that new competitions for allocating frequencies are suspended primarily to retain the existing situation in the totally controlled broadcasting domain and not to let new players into it . This is also resonant with the assessment of the PACE report on freedom of the media in CoE member countries, relapsed in October 2009. In particular, the document stresses that in Armenia “the management and operations of national TV companies are under strong state control” and that the country “is experiencing strong pressure for the popular independent A1+ TV channel to come back on air in accordance with the judgment of European Court of Human Rights”.
On November 10 the opposing “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun” (“Fourth Estate”) newspaper was not published. Instead another newspaper was published, “Chorrord Inknishkhanutiun”, (“Fourth Self-Estate”) – identical in terms of design and content. The newspaper with the old name stopped publishing by the ruling of the court of general jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash communities of Yerevan that considered the suit of “Gind” printing house versus “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun” newspaper founder, “Ogostos” LLC, further also “Trespassers W.” LLC (involved in the case as third party). Having secured the motion of the plaintiff, restricted the newspaper’s publisher, “Trespassers W.” LLC (involved in the case as third party), as well as other companies, to publish “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun” in any the printing houses.
On the same day the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression jointly with partner journalistic and human rights organizations issued a statement considering the ban on the issue of “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun” as infringement of the right on free dissemination of information. Moreover, the decision, whatever it is stipulated by, contradicts Article 27 of RA Constitution and Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the statement noted. The public organizations demanded “to call off the court decision which runs counter the democratic principles”, end the persecution of “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun” and solve the problem on a purely financial pattern.
While using the opportunities of the RA Law “On Mass Communication”, the editorial staff immediately launched “Chorrord Inknishkhanutiun” newspaper, yet, as independent media experts believe, a dangerous precedent of court persecution and banning of opposition publication has been set up in Armenia.
On November 16 the court made a decision, according to which the ban on newspaper publication would be in force until the debt of 2 million 673 thousand drams is paid. The founder of the daily stated its discontent and announced it would challenge the ruling. According to the Chief Editor, the newspaper had no debts to the publishing house, all was paid by the contract.
Meanwhile, this is not the first case when “Gind” files a suit versus opposition publications, stipulating extremely rigid timeframes that exceed the limits of a commercial dispute. This behaviors of the management of the publishing house that had been set up with the assistance of a donor organization to overcome the monopoly in print media publishing, is seen by newspapers to be politically motivated.
The authorities were quick in using the court ruling against “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun”. Already on November 13 the correspondent of the newspaper Taguhi Tovmasian with her accreditation was not let into the building of the National Assembly (she was given a one-time pass), and on November 16 she was prohibited from entering the session room of the parliament.
The Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression recorded a number of cases when no cameras were present at press-conference of well-known opposition activisms. So all TV companies, as if by an instruction, ignored these events. Meanwhile, the appearances referred to urgent issues that could not but interest the public of the country. In particular, on September 3 at “Hayatsk” club at a press-conference on Armenian-Turkish relations and the issue of protocols between the two countries, the leader of parliament faction “Heritage”, noting the absence of TV cameras, said with sarcasm: “A most interesting start of public debate!” He went on stressing: “The absence of TV cameras is a sign that the authorities have no wish for an open public debate and for the voice of the society to be heard”.
On October 10 at “Hayeli” club, at a press-conference of former Prime Minister, and currently a member of Armenian National Congress Hrant Bagratian, who presented the approaches of the opposition to the same issues of Armenian-Turkish border and the normalization of the relations between two countries again no cameras were present. At the press-conference of the new head of parliamentary faction “Heritage” Stepan Safarian at “Hayatsk” press-conference only one TV company was present, but even this TV company did not report on the stance of the party regarding the Armenian-Turkish protocols.
These and other similar facts are a sign of implicit censorship and control of authorities over broadcast media. The Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression intends to study the problem in greater detail and to monitor press-conferences and their coverage on the TV air of the country.
The repot has been developed using the findings of the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, as well as the materials of Yerevan Press Club Weekly Newsletter and the web-site of Freedom of Information Center.
* The Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression developed this report under a project supported by Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation-Armenia and the Government of the Netherlands.