YPC Weekly Newsletter

2003
March 15-21
NEW ARRESTS ON THE MURDER OF TIGRAN NAGHDALIAN MADE

The law and order bodies of Armenia continue publicizing new data on the assassination of the Chairman of the Council of Public TV and Radio Company of Armenia Tigran Naghdalian, committed on December 28, 2002. As it has been reported, two participants of the crime had been announced wanted and six had been arrested, including the direct assassins (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, March 8-14, 2003).

On March 14 the Department of Public Relations and Information of the RA Police informed that on the evening of March 13 Grigor Petrosian (nicknamed "Mzdo"), announced wanted on the same day, came to the Department of Criminal Investigation of the RA Police and made a confession.

On March 15 the Department also informed about the arrest - in the afternoon of March 14 - of Hovhannes Harutiunian (nicknamed "Aper"), announced wanted on March 6. Harutiunian pleaded guilty of the assassination of Tigran Naghdalian and testified that his main client was the resident of Ararat village Armen Sargsian.

On March 15 Armen Sargsian was arrested and he, as a number of others involved in the case, is introduced charges on items 1 and 3 of Article 17-99 of the RA Criminal Code (commitment of premeditated murder with aggravating circumstances for profit and in relation with the professional and public duty performance by the deceased). Entrepreneur Armen Sargsian is the brother of Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian, killed during the terrorist attack on the Parliament on October 27, 1999, and Aram Sargsian, the member of the Political Council of opposition "Republic" party.

On March 17 the mother of the Sargsians Greta Sargsian started sit-in of indefinite duration at the gate of the RA President's residence. Greta Sargsian believes the charges introduced to her son is a frame-up on behalf of the authorities. Opposition representatives, a number of RA National Assembly deputies, the widows of the Parliament Speaker Karen Demirchian and Vice-Speaker Yuri Bakhshian, assassinated during the terrorist attack of October 27 - Rima Demirchian and Anahit Bakhshian, other relatives of the October 27 victims also took part in the picket by the presidential residence. In the opinion of Rima Demirchian, the charges introduced to Armen Sargsian is a provocation on behalf of the authorities to defile the opposition, and the murder of the journalist, who, as she believes, was one of the key witnesses on October 27 case, was only to the benefit of the terrorist attack organizers. A similar opinion is voiced by the representatives of opposition forces, including "Republic" party, who hold actions and rallies of protest.

On March 18 the attorney of Armen Sargsian informed his defendant pleads not guilty of the death of the journalist.

POLICE IMPEDED THE WORK OF "ARMINFO" PHOTOGRAPHER

On March 18 the law and order bodies arrested the press photographer of "Arminfo" news agency Meruzhan Minasian. Despite the presence of the professional identification card, the policemen did not allow the journalist make shootings of the protest picket at the RA President’s residence to protect Armen Sargsian, arrested on the case of Tigran Naghdalian's assassination (see above). The order keepers struck Meruzhan Minasian with a baton, took his camera and dispatched him to the Police station of Arabkir-Zeitun community of Yerevan. In two hours, after the intervention of "Arminfo" management, Minasian's colleagues and the administration of the RA Police, he was released. According to the journalist, the camera was returned to him undamaged, and the police officers apologized for the misunderstanding.

THE HEAD OF HCA VANADZOR BRANCH ARTHUR SAKUNTS ARRESTED

On March 15 in Vanadzor (Lori region) during the action "Let Us Protect Our Electoral Rights" held by Vanadzor branch of Helsinki Citizens Assembly, the head of the branch, the editor of "Civil Initiative" newspaper Arthur Sakunts was arrested. After short hearing the city court sentenced Arthur Sakunts to 10-day administrative arrest for "malicious insubordination" to the representatives of the authorities.

As it was previously reported, during the action "Let Us Protect Our Electoral Rights" the HCA Vanadzor branch planned to inform about the irregularities recorded by the observers of this organization during the presidential elections-2003. Before that in the early morning of March 14 the office of the organization was set on fire (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, March 8-14, 2003).

The joint statement of the branches of Helsinki Citizens Assembly of South Caucasus, local and international partners of this organization voice the appeal to the authorities of Armenia "to release Arthur Sakunts immediately". The refusal of the Vanadzor Mayor Samvel Darbinian to issue a permission for holding the action in the center of the city (applied for by the organizers in advance) was qualified by the statement authors as a violation of the constitutional right to peaceful public events. The representatives of HCA called on the international community to join their demand. "Amnesty International", "Human Rights Watch", International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights voiced their concern on the arrest of the human rights activist.

On March 18 Vanadzor was visited by representatives of Armenian HCA Committee, Helsinki Committee of Armenia, "Human Rights Watch" in South Caucasus, Internews Armenia, Civil Society Development Union, Yerevan Press Club and a group of Yerevan journalists. At the office of HCA Vanadzor branch a "round table" meeting with the participation of local NGOs and journalists was held, where a joint statement to protect Arthur Sakunts was passed. Yerevan delegation also met with the Prosecutor, the Head of the Police of the Lori region and the judge in charge of the human rights activist's case. During the meetings the possibility for challenging the court decision was considered.

HEARINGS ON THE CASE OF CENTRAL BANK VERSUS

On March 19 at the court of primary jurisdiction of Center and Nork-Marash communities of Yerevan the hearings of the RA Central Bank versus "Aravot" daily continued. As it has been reported, the Central Bank addressed the court demanding "Aravot" to refute the pieces published in the newspaper on February 11 and 20, narrating about the misconduct of the CB officials (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, March 8-14, 2003). At the court session the attorney of the Central Bank presented a petition of expanding the suit which was secured. Now the CB demands the newspaper publish a refutation for several other articles, in addition to the above mentioned pieces, too. These changes prompted the attorney of the daily to solicit postponing the session for two days - for the respondent to have time to get ready. The petition was rejected, and the responding part challenged the judge. At the session of March 20 the challenge was rejected.

The next session on the case is to take place on March 25.

DRAFT LAW "ON FREEDOM OF INFORMATION" PASSED IN THE SECOND HEARING

On March 18 the RA National Assembly passed the draft RA Law "On Freedom of Information" in the second hearing. As it has been reported, in the first hearing the document was passed in October last year (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, October 19-25, 2002). Experts of Yerevan Press Club, Center of Freedom of Information of Association of Investigative Journalists, the Civil Society Development Union, Internews Armenia took part in the further revision of the draft. The experts jointly with the members of two Parliament Committees considered all the suggestions received.

The majority of the 62 proposals submitted both by these organizations and the RA Government were approved at the session of March 18.

Experts believe the draft is a quite advanced document and can ensure the realization of the right to information. In the draft, a number of deficiencies present in the first hearing were eliminated. Thus, non-governmental organizations as a regulation object for the law are removed from the draft. Instead the concept of "organizations of public significance" is introduced, which are defined as "non-state organizations, having a monopolistic or dominating position on the commodity market, as well as those supplying services in the sphere of health care, sports, education, culture, social, transportation and communications, utilities". These organizations are to provide information (other than that constituting commercial secret) by the same procedure that budget institutions, state structures and local self-administration bodies do.

In items 3, 4 of Article 7 the data subject to mandatory and periodical publication are listed. They also specify that the changes in these data are to be published within 10 days. Since preparatory work is needed for the realization of these items, they will be enacted since January 1, 2004.

In the draft passed in the second hearing the grounds for refusal to provide information are presented more distinctly and the cases when the information cannot be refused are listed. The terms for the oral information query and response to it are also stipulated. The answer to the written query is provided within five days. In some cases charges for the information provision are defined, which, however, cannot exceed the expenses associated with the information provision. No fees can be charged if the volume of information provided does not exceed 10 typewritten pages or if it is sent via e-mail. The draft also defines the concept of "entity responsible for ensuring the freedom of information".

PRINT RUN OF "HAYASTANI COMMUNIST" NEWSPAPER DISAPPEARED

On March 18 the readers did not get the ordinary issue of "Hayastani Communist" weekly - the print organ of the Communist Party of Armenia. According to the CPA member, RA National Assembly deputy Khoren Sargsian, the print run was requisitioned by strangers from the publishing house directly. The Editor of the newspaper Norik Petrosian and number of party veterans relate the disappearance of the print run with pieces published in the issue where the activities of the First Secretary of CPA Central Committee Vladimir Darbinian were criticized.

NTV BROADCASTS IN ARMENIA RESUMED

Since March 17 the broadcasts of Russian NTV company in Armenia resumed. As it has been reported, the re-broadcasts of this TV channel were interrupted on February 26 (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, February 22-28, 2003).

THE ODD APPROACH OF "REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS"

Recently the international organization "Reporters Without Borders" (RSF) published the Worldwide press freedom index. This initiative is conducted by RSF for the first time and is based on the events related to freedom of press during the period from September 2001 till October 2002. The indexes of 139 countries are listed, of which only nine are former Soviet republics. Of the three South Caucasus countries only Azerbaijan is presented.

In the methodology of compiling the index "Reporters Without Borders" explain that it was drawn up by a survey of people "with a real knowledge of press freedom situation in one or more countries", namely: the local journalists, the foreign correspondents residing in the country, researchers, legal experts, specialists on the region and the researchers of "Reporters Without Borders" International Secretariat. The respondents were asked to answer 50 questions, covering various forms of press freedom violations (murders, imprisonment of journalists, censorship, pressure, state monopoly in some areas, press sanctions, media regulation, etc.) The countries included in the list, as RSF clarify, are "those about which 'Reporters Without Borders' received completed questionnaires from several independent sources". The absence of other countries is explained by "lack of reliable information".

We cannot speak for other countries, but "Reporters Without Borders" have a correspondent in Armenia, maximally verified information on events in the media environment of the country is regularly sent to this organizations from Yerevan Press Club. It is quite probable that RSF also receives (or has the opportunity to receive) information on the situation of freedom of expression and press in Armenia from both local and foreign media organizations. Thus, the Center of Journalism in Extreme Situation of the Union of Journalists of Russia makes a daily electronic mailing of communications (unedited) from various sources with news from CIS countries, including Armenia. We also have enough media experts, lawyers and specialists, "with a real knowledge" about the sphere of interest to RSF.

If in case of Armenia "Reporters Without Borders" lack "reliable information", how come the organization occasionally makes protests on the violations of freedom of expression and media in Armenia? For instance, on April 2, 2002 the Secretary General of RSF Robert Menard in his letter addressed to RA President Robert Kocharian qualified the deprivation of “A1+” TV company of a broadcast license as ”the most serious violation of pluralism in Armenia in the past few years”. If the head of RSF made this conclusion, it means the organization tracks the situation in Armenia regularly. It also means RSF has "several independent sources", providing "reliable information" on Armenia. Then why were these sources not involved in the survey? The approach seems rather odd...

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Editor of YPC Newsletter - Elina POGHOSBEKIAN