On November 24, the Administrative Court of Armenia ended hearing the lawsuit filed by “Investigative Journalists” NGO against the RA Ministry of Environmental Protection with the demand to provide information.
As we have reported, in October 2013 “Investigative Journalists” requested the Ministry of Environment to provide information for journalistic investigation conducted by the NGO, on trafficking of the animals listed in the International Red Book, in Armenia.
Particularly, the request dealt with the copies of permits for import and export of animals, issued by the Ministry in 2010-2013, in accordance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Ministry of Environment responded merely with the list of the animals, imported and exported from Armenia. At the same time, the agency refused to issue the copies of permits, referring to a commercial secret, as the documents contained the names of importers and exporters.
In the following request “Investigative Journalists” suggested the agency to provide the demanded information, after details containing commercial secret are blurred. The Ministry refused again. The NGO appealed to the court, demanding to oblige the Ministry of Environmental Protection to provide the requested information in full, and to compensate the court fees of the plaintiff. On May 7, 2014, the Administrative Court began the proceedings.
At the June 25 hearing the respondent made a motion to conclude an amicable agreement. The court supported the motion and appointed a three-week period of negotiations between the parties (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, June 23-29, 2014).
However the parties did not reach an agreement and the trial continued.
As Hetq.am, the online edition of “Investigative Journalists”, reported, Levon Gevorgian, the representative of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, reiterated the position to keep the data secret. At the same time, he admitted that the Ministry had provided foreign journalists, visiting Armenia for filming a documentary on animal trafficking, with several copies of CITES (this is evidenced by a video footage attached to the case by “Investigative Journalists”).
However, the Ministry’s representative claimed that this data was provided to the foreign journalists “as a result of a misunderstanding, not as an official act”, Hetq.am reports. Samvel Hovakimian, the judge, inquired whether the staff member had been brought to responsibility for having shared the information.
In this regard Hetq.am cites a remarkable dialogue between the judge and the representative of the Ministry. “Who can bring Ziroyan to responsibility!”, Levon Gevorgian answered. “What do you mean ‘who can bring Ziroyan to responsibility’?” the judge wondered. “Well, he is an academician”, the representative of the Ministry explained.
Hetq.am further reports that Grisha Balasanian, the attorney of the plaintiff, asked if a criminal case on animal trafficking, initiated after media publications, had caused public response and increased attention to the issue. “Why would monkeys interest anyone? There are so many issues out there. Go cover them”, the representative of the Ministry of Environmental Protection responded.
The judge admonished the Ministry’s representative for his “inappropriate answers and attitude”, Hetq.am concludes.
The court will announce its ruling on December 8.