On July 4 in Yerevan at the RA Government Reception House the conference “Armenia in Europe” was held. The event was co-organized by the Armenian National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum and the Centre for European Studies at Yerevan State University. President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy, who was paying an official visit to Armenia, made an opening address at the conference.
The themes of discussions were the various dimensions of EU-Armenia cooperation in frames of the Eastern Partnership. One of the eight conference sessions was devoted to freedom of expression as an undisputed value of human rights. The session was moderated by Yerevan Press Club President Boris Navasardian, and the speakers were: Margarit Yesayan, Deputy Chairwoman of the RA National Assembly Standing Committee on Protection of Human Rights and Public Affairs, Dr. Roland Bless, Principal Adviser to OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Shushan Doydoyan, President of Freedom of Information Center, Gegham Manukian, Director of News and Current Affairs Programs of “Yerkir Media” TV company.
On July 4 RA Civil Court of Appeal ended hearing the suit of “Ijevan Road Construction and Exploitation” CJSC versus the founder of “Ijevan” TV channel, “Ijevan Studio” LLC, and its correspondent (now - Director) Naira Khachikian.
On December 12, 2011 Ijevan court of general jurisdiction of Tavush region took into consideration the suit of the road construction company, which had contested the plot, criticizing its actions. The piece was aired on “Ijevan” TV on June 21, 2011 (it was also broadcast by Second Armenian TV Channel and “Yerkir Media” TV channel). The plaintiff demanded to bring apologies, pay off 3 mln 264 thousand AMD (about $ 8,600), from which 3 mln for compensating the moral damage, 200,000 - attorneys’ services and 64,000 - state duty for filing the court (see details in “On Freedom of Speech in Armenia” Yerevan Press Club report for 2011 at http://ypc.am/about_freedom/in/eng). On April 27, 2012 court of general jurisdiction of Tavush region secured the suit, obliging the respondent to compensate the damage, caused by libel in the amount of 50,000 AMD, pay off the plaintiff’s expenses for attorney services of 20,000 and the state duty of 1,500 AMD. On May 23 the road construction company lodged an appeal against this ruling.
At the July 4 session the Civil Court of Appeal abolished the ruling of the court of general jurisdiction and resolved to return the case to reconsideration to the same court instance.
On July 4 Information Disputes Council released a conclusion regarding the ruling of court of general jurisdiction of Ajapnyak and Davitashen administrative districts of Yerevan on the suit of Gevorg Hayrapetian versus the founder of “Kentron” TV channel, “Multimedia-Kentron TV” CJSC. The missions of the Council, established on May 1, 2011, list preparation and release of advisory expert conclusions on court litigations regarding libel and insult, protection of private life and freedom of information, as well as providing consultations to the Armenian legislative and executive authorities, local self-government bodies and citizens (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, April 29 - May 5, 2011).
Gevorg Hayrapetian, being accused for a crime, had contested at court of general jurisdiction of Ajapnyak and Davitashen administrative districts of Yerevan the pieces aired in the programs from “Investigation” cycle of “Kentron” TV channel and broadcast on November 14-21, 2010. According to the plaintiff, the factual inaccuracies in the pieces discredited his honor and dignity. Besides, the pieces were aired on “Kentron” before the court verdict came into force (it was rendered on October 25, 2010 on accusation of high treason and was to be in effect after a month). Thus, the presumption of innocence was violated. The plaintiff demanded to bind the founder of “Kentron” to provide free air for refuting the untrue information, compensate the moral damage caused by libel and insult in the amount of 3 mln AMD (about $ 7,900) and to pay off the expenses for attorney’s services of 300,000 AMD. On June 16, 2011 the court of general jurisdiction revoked the lawsuit. Gevorg Hayrapetian appealed the ruling at the upper court jurisdictions, which also turned down the complaints. A similar ruling was rendered by the same court jurisdiction in another case on the protection of honor and dignity of Ashot Harutiunian, being accused for a crime, versus “Kentron” founder (see details in “On Freedom of Speech in Armenia” Yerevan Press Club report for 2011 at http://ypc.am/about_freedom/in/eng). In fact, the Information Disputes Council’s conclusion also extends to this court ruling.
The court revoked the suit of Gevorg Hayrapetian on the grounds of Part 3 of Article 9 of RA Law “On Mass Communication” and Part 6 of Article 1087.1 of RA Civil Code (“Order and Conditions of Compensation of Damage to the Honor, Dignity or Business Reputation”), ruling out that the contested information of “Kentron” contained a reference to the source (i.e., the RA Procuracy, which provided data on the criminal proceedings) and the information was reproduced with good faith. The Council agreed with this position.
As regards the presumption of innocence, the court considered the respective demand of the plaintiff baseless, since the Armenian civil law does not set out any legal protection against violation of presumption of innocence. According to the Council, this issue should be viewed from the journalism ethics perspective. The Council highlighted the Recommendation Rec(2003)13 of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers on the provision of information through the media in relation to criminal proceedings. One of the principles of this documents states: “Respect for the principle of the presumption of innocence is an integral part of the right to a fair trial. Accordingly, opinions and information relating to on-going criminal proceedings should only be communicated or disseminated through the media where this does not prejudice the presumption of innocence of the suspect or accused.”
The Information Disputes Council mentioned that even though “Kentron” TV channel has reproduced in good faith the information received from a reliable source, it must respect the presumption of innocence of the accused. This is also conditioned by the fact that Armenian media “have frequently stated that they prefer to work under self-regulation mechanisms, such as codes of professional ethics”, the Council mentioned.
The full expert conclusion of the Information Disputes Council is available in Armenian at http://www.ypc.am/expert/ln/eng.
On July 2 Hayk Gevorgian, Chief Editor of “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily, received the decision of the RA Police Department of Investigation on Road Traffic Accidents regarding the withdrawal of the criminal proceedings, instituted against him with charges of running down. As the decision mentioned, the inquiry was dropped due to absence of corpus delicti.
As it has been reported, on February 3, 2012 Hayk Gevorgian (then the Managing Editor of “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily) was taken into custody to “Nubarashen” penitentiary. He was charged with Articles 242 (“Violation of the traffic safety rules and exploitation of vehicles”) and 244 (“Leaving the scene of an accident”) of RA Criminal Code. According to the RA Police, on January 13, 2012 at about 17.30 in Yerevan Hayk Gevorgian, driving the newspaper’s car, ran down the pedestrian Ashot Frangulian and leaved the scene of accident. Criminal proceedings were instituted upon the complaint of Ashot Frangulian on January 20; an arrest was selected as a measure of preventive punishment towards Hayk Gevorgian. On February 6 the measure of preventive punishment was changed by a written undertaking. At the February 7 press conference Hayk Gevorgian told about the details of the January 13 incident. The journalist particularly stated that he did not commit a run down and assessed the happening as a purposive action against him - an opposition journalist (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, February 3-9, 2012).
The journalist contested at the RA Criminal Court of Appeal the decision on his arrest, rendered by the court of general jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash administrative districts of Yerevan. On March 13 the second court jurisdiction revoked the appeal. In its turn, in end-April RA Court of Cassation upheld the ruling of the Court of Appeal. As Hayk Gevorgian informed YPC, he intends to address the European Court on Human Rights.
As regards the RA police decision on withdrawing the criminal proceedings, the journalist says that he will also contest it, since he believes that the charges were framed-up. “I would be delighted if the case was withdrawn due to absence of the crime per se, but not to the corpus delicti”, stressed the Chief Editor of “Haykakan Zhamanak”.
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Editor of YPC Newsletter - Elina POGHOSBEKIAN