Recently, a guide for journalists and lawyers titled “Defamation and Insult” has been published. Online handbook in Armenian has been developed within the project “Assistance to Information Access and Out-of-Court Settlements in Armenia”, implemented by the Freedom of Information Center with the support of OSCE Office in Yerevan. The authors of the guide are well-known lawyers, Ara Ghazarian, Deputy Director of “Arni Consult” law firm and member of the Information Disputes Council, and Artak Zeynalyan from the “Rule of Law” NGO.
On May 18, 2010 amendments’ to the Civil, Criminal and Criminal Procedure Codes of Armenia were adopted to decriminalize libel and insult. At the same time, the institute of compensation for damage caused by libel and insult was introduced to the Civil Code. Decriminalization which was welcomed by international organizations, in practice had an ambiguous effect, and to some extent, turned into a factor limiting the freedom of expression. If previously defamation criminal cases against media were rare, in the first year after decriminalization, more than dozen civil lawsuits were launched against media, especially newspapers (until present, more than 100 similar cases were filed). Moreover, these cases were predominantly filed by representatives of political and business elites, who claimed maximum amount of compensation. And in the beginning courts tended to award maximum compensations for damages.
The situation improved significantly after the November 15 , 2011 recommendations of the RA Constitutional Court and the April 27, 2012 precedent judgments of the RA Court of Cassation, issued in relation with the cases of defamation by media. It can be stated with certainty that since the beginning of 2012 plaintiffs who sought not to restore their reputation, but solely to punish journalists with monetary penalties, no longer reach their aim in the courts. The number of lawsuits dwindles, however problems persist: in some cases courts continue to serve as instruments to put pressure on the media.
The user guide consequently highlights all possible pre-trial procedures and stages of court proceedings, notions of libel and insult, as well as mechanisms of journalists and media protection foreseen by legislation in defamation cases. Each issue discussed contains references to relevant legislative norms and examples of Armenian judicial practice, decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and expert opinions of the Information Disputes Council. The guide also provides recommendations for citizens, who happen to be in the circumstances when they have to protect their honor, dignity or reputation against libel or insult by media.