May 12, 2023


Regarding the unprecedented decision of the court to apply a measure to secure the claim in the case of Tigran Avinyan versus “168 Zham” Ltd. and journalist Davit Sargsyan


On March 31, 2023, Yerevan Deputy Mayor Tigran Avinyan filed a lawsuit with the Court of General Jurisdiction of Yerevan against 168 Zham Ltd. and journalist Davit Sargsyan, demanding to oblige them to apologize, refute the information tarnishing his honor, dignity and business reputation and pay 9 million AMD in compensation. The lawsuit was caused by a video entitled “Tigran Avinyan: a newly discovered rich man” published on website’s YouTube channel on February 25. In the video, Davit Sargsyan, the author of the piece, depicts Avinyan as an official “benefiting from unlimited administrative resources”, whose family’s wealth “is consistently growing”.

On May 2, 2023, the court accepted the lawsuit for proceedings and granted the plaintiff’s motion to secure the claim, which involved placing a lien on the property and bank accounts belonging to the journalist and the media in the amount of 9 million AMD. According to the defendants, they were not engaged in any discussions prior to this decision, moreover, they were neither informed nor provided an opportunity to present their objections. If this information is confirmed, the higher courts will simply have to evaluate this practice employed by the Yerevan Court of General Jurisdiction.

Besides apparent violations of the judicial procedure, there are significant points of concern in this case: 1) being a high-ranking official, Tigran Avinyan did not make any efforts to resolve the issue through an out-of-court procedure, such as seeking a refutation from the editorial office; 2) upon resorting to legal action, he made a claim for the highest possible monetary compensation; 3) not content with that, Avinyan also filed a motion to secure the claim by seeking an extraordinary monetary sum, which is unprecedented in our years of monitoring of court cases against journalists and media; and 4) the court consistently granted that demand.

While for now refraining from giving an assessment to the disputed piece and the alleged insult and defamation contained therein (a matter within the court’s purview at this stage), we state that the aforementioned facts clearly indicate that Tigran Avinyan’s goal was not so much to clarify, refute or respond to the publication, but rather to inflict punishmen and exert pressure on the journalist and the media. And the judge, in fact, contributed to Avinyan’s intentions. This is unacceptable, and we are confident that these alarming facts will not be overlooked by international organizations and experts, as they contradict the precedent rulings of the European Court. Specifically, when seeking to secure a claim, both the plaintiff and the court should provide a comprehensive rationale for its necessity. Meanwhile, in this particular case, it remains unclear why the plaintiff, and subsequently the court concluded that the execution of the judicial act hinges on the imposition of lien on the defendant’s property and funds.

Moreover, it is essential to note that when applying security for claims in insult and defamation cases the courts should maintain proportionality an consider the fact of not hindering the regular functioning of the media. Such consideration appears to be lacking in this case.
We firmly believe that some of the unacceptable manifestations of this judicial process are directly related to the March 24, 2021 amendments to Article 1087.1 of the RA Civil Code, according to which the upper threshold of monetary compensation for insult and defamation was tripled to 3 million and 6 million AMD, respectively.

We, the undersigned organizations, expressing our deep concern regarding the court case of Tigran Avinyan against 168 Zham Ltd. and journalist Davit Sargsyan, demand:

• the Yerevan Court of General Jurisdiction, to immediately revoke the decision of applying security for the claim in this particular case, remove the lien from the defendants’ property and bank accounts and proceed to the examination of the dispute itself;

• Deputy Mayor Tigran Avinyan, as a high-ranking official, to exhibit greater tolerance, demonstrate behavior that is more befitting of his position and focus on rectifying the disputed piece, and, if there are grounds, seeking a refutation. It would be preferable, however, to withdraw the lawsuit and resolve the issue out of court by applying to the Information Disputes Council or Media Ethics Observatory in order to obtain an expert opinion.