On October 1 in the court of primary jurisdiction of Shirak region, Armenia, the first session on the suit to rehabilitate and protect the rights of citizens and journalists to information was held. The co-plaintiffs on the suit are the Chairman of the Board of “Asparez” Journalists’ Club Levon Barseghian and the Correspondent of “Iravunk” newspaper in the Shirak region Gagik Nikoghosian. The legal defense to the co-plaintiffs is provided by the Gyumri branch of Armenian Center of Human Rights Protection named after A.D. Sakharov.
The history of this civil case is as follows. In the course of entrance examinations to the institutions of higher education of the country, in August, the City Examination Commission on Admissions to the State Higher Education Institutions of Gyumri at one of its sessions made the decision of prohibiting the journalists to be present in the examination room during the last hour of the written exams. According to the verbal comments of the Commission, the presence of audio and video recording equipment was also disallowed at this moment. Besides, the Commission refused to provide the journalists with the copies of the minutes of its sessions. On August 14, the representatives of media and journalistic associations disseminated a declaration demanding that the Commission should cancel the decision above and publicize the minutes. The declaration stressed, in particular, that these methods hinder the activities of journalists, the complete and objective coverage of the examination process by the media, are contradictory to the national and state interests, the establishment of democracy principles.
Since neither this action nor the subsequent appeals to the Admissions Commission yielded results, the journalistic community represented by the head of “Asparez” Journalists’ Club Levon Barseghian and journalist Gagik Nikoghosian filed a suit on August 30. The suit was based on the fact that the actions of the Commission violated Article 24 of the RA Constitution, as well as a number of articles of the acting RA Law “On Press and Other Media Outlets” (guaranteeing, in particular, the rights to freedom of expression, receipt and dissemination of information), and voiced the following demands: to recognize the decision of the Admissions Commission prohibiting the presence of journalists in the examination room during the last hour of the exam; require the Commission to open to the journalists the minutes, which do not contain state or service secrets.
The first court session was scheduled on October 1. As by that time the duration of the mandate (till September 3, 2001) of the Commission had expired, legally, the RA Ministry of Education and Science had to respond to the suit. Meanwhile the attorney of the respondent submitted to the court a document that verifies his authority from the Chairman of the Commission, and not from the Ministry. Moreover, according to the RA Civil Proceedings Code, in 10 days after the court query the respondent is to present written answers to the suit. The court, for its part, should present this document to the plaintiff for familiarization, with a right for additional comments given to the latter. To implement all appropriate procedures the court proceedings were delayed. They are expected to start in about ten days.
As Yerevan Press Club was told by the head of “Asparez” Journalists’ Club Levon Barseghian, the decision to appeal to a legal authority is explained not only by the wish to protect the rights of journalists, but also to create a precedent to prevent the re-occurrence of such situations. “By the way, on August 29 in Gyumri the RA Minister of Education and Science Edward Kazarian, when answering journalists’ questions, said, in particular, that if a similar decision was taken by the Admissions Commission, it is illegal”, Levon Barseghian added.
It is still early to conclude how the suit will end. However the journalistic organization that initiated it has already made its contribution to the eternal struggle of the “fourth estate” with the state officials who seek to restrict the access to information for journalists and society.