On July 9, the Information Disputes Council adopted an opinion on the lawsuit of Harutyun Sargsian versus “Tsayg” TV company of Gyumri.
At the moment Harutyun Sargsian is detained with charges of murder of K.Y. (the fiancé of the daughter of Vardan Ghukasian, former Mayor of Gyumri). On December 27, 2012, “Tsayg” TV channel reported in its news program “Azdarar” about the trial on the case, which started on the same day. The piece particularly informed that Harutyun Sargsian committed a murder with “exceptional brutality”. On December 31, 2012, the TV channel’s website Tsayg.am published a “Correction”, in which “Tsayg” stressed that the wording “committed a murder with exceptional brutality” did not reflect the opinion and views of the TV company, and was a citation from the letter of K.Y. parents to the RA President Serzh Sargsian. On January 23, 2013, Harutyun Sargsian contested the TV report at the Court of General Jurisdiction of Shirak Region. The lawsuit on protection of honor, dignity and business reputation was submitted into consideration on January 31, 2013, and claimed public apologies and moral loss compensation for libel and insult in the amount of 300,000 AMD (about $700). The court hearings started on February 28 and are still at the preliminary stage.
In its opinion IDC reminded that presumption of innocence is a fundamental right enshrined in the RA Constitution. Thus the Armenian media, as well as all others, shall respect this right, irrespective of any circumstance. Therefore, the TV company’s argument that the contested wording was a reproduction of third party’s statement, cannot justify the violation of presumption of innocence, concluded the IDC. At the same time, the IDC stressed that provided the current legislation and traditions, the presumption of innocence is deemed only as a criminal-judicial category in Armenia, and although this right is often violated in civil law, the RA Civil Code lacks any mechanism for its protection. As a result, Armenian citizens apply to courts seeking protection for violation of their right to presumption of innocence in the context of Article 1087.1 of the Civil Code, which has a completely different intent and sets norms for libel and insult.
Considering the above-mentioned, the IDC found that “Tsayg” TV company had violated Harutyun Sargsian’s right to presumption of innocence by making a public statement about him committing a crime, before his guilt was proven by a court verdict. And despite the fact that the Armenian legislation fails to provide legal protection for violation of the right to presumption of innocence, the media shall respect this right and show due discretion when reporting on criminal investigation and court trials.