On August 20, RA Criminal Court of Appeal continued the examination of the appeal by “Hraparak” daily and iLur.am against the ruling of the court of general jurisdiction which required these media outlets to disclose the source of information, and thus, created a precedent that threatens the freedom of speech.
On May 9, 2014, “Hraparak” and iLur.am published anonymous information about a dispute that took place on one of the streets of Gyumri, on the evening of May 7, between the regional police chief, colonel Vardan Nadarian and two brothers – Artur and Rafael Aleksanians – first being a world-renowned athlete, a multiple European champion and Olympic bronze medalist of wrestling. According to that information, the chief of Shirak region police did not like that the car in which the brothers were driving had too bright headlights. Vardan Nadarian got out of his car and started to hit the brothers with the pistol grip, causing them injuries. Soon after the incident that caused a wide public outcry, including in the social media, RA Prosecutor’s Office assigned the Armenian Special Investigation Service to prepare the materials on the Gyumri incident, based on media publications. (According to “Hraparak”, later criminal proceedings were instigated under Clause 2, Article 309 “Abuse of power, accompanied by violence, use of weapons or special means” of the RA Criminal Code.)
On June 26, the judge of the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan, Gagik Khandanian, at the request of the Special Investigation Service (SIS), ruled to oblige “Hraparak” and iLur.am to disclose the source of the published information.
On July 9, the both media disputed the ruling of the Court of General Jurisdiction at the Criminal Court of Appeal. “The ruling for disclosing the sources of information was made in our (journalists) absence. We were informed about the decision via postal service. There was not even an announcement on initiation of the criminal case”, on July 10, 2014 commented “Hraparak” in its piece “You Can Silence the Journalists but Not the People”.
The court ruling obliging the media to disclose the sources of information was regarded by local and international experts as a dangerous precedent jeopardizing the freedom of speech. On July 22, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović expressed concern that “this ruling might have a chilling effect on media as it could thwart reporting on issues of public interest”. “The need for journalists’ professional confidentiality with public and private sources of information must be acknowledged”, noted the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. Dunja Mijatović also stressed that the right of journalists to protect the identity of sources is a key principle of investigative journalism and has repeatedly been declared as a basic requirement for freedom of expression by the OSCE.
The hearings in the Criminal Court of Appeal started on July 29. The first sessions dealt with purely procedural issues (open/closed format of the hearings, possession of documents confirming their authority by the parties, etc.); hence, the Court has not started the examination of the merits of the case yet.