Point of View

Editor-in-chief of “Hraparak” is convinced that censorship has started in Armenia

17.09.2011

The court prohibited Hraparak newspaper to publish any articles connected with the lawsuit of the Service for Compulsory Enforcement of Judicial Orders (CEJO) against Hraparak without clearly specifying the legal purpose of such interference with the freedom of press.

Misak Martirosyan, head of Judicial Department, brought an action against Hraparak daily. In Misak Martirosyan's opinion, in the articles Judicial Department - "Misak's Domain"-1  and Judicial Department - "Misak's Domain"-2, published on August 11 and 12, the newspaper has 3 times insulted and 9 times defamed him. M.Martirosyan demands the maximum compensation stipulated by the law - 3 million Armenian drams.

On August 31, Judge Karine Petrosyan from the Kentron and Nork-Marash general jurisdiction court made a decision on providing measures for this lawsuit prohibiting Hraparak daily to spread any information connected with this civil case till a final judicial decision is made.

The court did not substantiate in its decision whether making such a decision is necessary in a democratic society for the sake of interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, prevention of disorder or crime, protection of health or morals, protection of the reputation or the rights of others, preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary (European Convention of Human Rights, Article 10, point 2). Whereas the court that acts in the name of the RA, had to directly apply Article 10 of the Convention and appropriate precedent law of the European Court.  

By the decision of the court, a 3 million Armenian dram ban was imposed on the property belonging to the Hraparak daily. The newspaper was informed about it in a written form only 16 days later whereas CEJO forced to implement the decision 9 days after it was taken.

Hraparak daily editor-in-chief Armine Ohanyan and reporter Sona Harutyunyan claim they did not defame or insult head of CEJO since they had just cited some excerpts from letters of some employees of the department addressed to the RA Minister of Justice Hrair Tovmasyan and Prosecutor General Aghvan Hovsepyan.  

"It is obvious that the judge has gone beyond her commission, and they are actually trying for the first time in Armenia to impose censorship which is justified only in case of emergency. That is, before saying A they want to say Z: first you have to provide freedom of speech and only then regulate it," Armine Ohanyan says.   

New Precedent

While media experts voice about suits against media outlets after decriminalization of articles on defamation and insult, there emerge new precedent suits.    

Media expert Mesrop Harutyunyan, as an ordinary citizen, wrote an open letter to the Minister of Justice Hrair Tovmasyan, claiming that the ban on publishing is a gross violation of freedom of speech.

"By this decision the judge has violated the RA Constitution: the freedom of speech is secured in Article 27 according to which "every person has a right for freedom of speech including the freedom to search, obtain, spread information and ideas by any means of information despite state boundaries. The freedom of media outlets and other means of information shall be guaranteed."

The expert also mentions that the judge had violated the RA Law on Mass Media, part 3 of article 4 of which stipulates that censorship as well as any compulsion against a reporter or person implementing reporting activity addressed against spread of information or targeted at refusal of spreading information or leading to it is prohibited.

In response to Mesrop Harutyunyan, the Ministry of Justice clarified that the problem is connected with not less valuable principles of the independence, self-sufficiency of the judge and inadmissibility of interference with the activities of the judge performing justice: "Public evaluation of the actions of the judge at this phase of judicial investigation of the case including making use of the legislative right of the RA Minister of Justice to start a disciplinary procedure, may violate the meaning of the principles of independence, self-sufficient and being guided by inner conviction based on comprehensive, complete and objective investigation of all evidence in the case." 

On 9th of September, Karen Andreasyan, the RA Defender of Human Rights, also made an announcement in defense of the freedom of speech, expressing his concerns about any danger in realizing freedom of speech and press and any case of inappropriate implementation of legislation in this sphere. The ombudsman called all public bodies to keep from actions that lead to the formation of the culture of censorship.

In his announcement the ombudsman mentioned the "The Observer and Guardian v. The United Kingdom" case considered by the European Court of Human Rights. It has been proven that the delay of the publication due to the preliminary ban may devaluate the information and make it uninteresting.

The European Court made another decision in favor of a media outlet in "The Sunday Times v. The United Kingdom" case. The newspaper was going to publish an article on a company which had not manifested sufficient care in the testing phase of a medicine before putting it in the market. The newspaper was prohibited to publish the article. Later the European Court decided that the restraint was not sufficiently grounded since it did not comply with the legal goal and was not a necessary means of maintaining the prestige of justice in a democratic society.  

Hraparak daily is planning to appeal in the coming 10 days the part of the decision prohibiting spread of any information connected with the above dispute. Will the decisions of the European Court be applicable in Armenian judicial system and will this decision against the daily reach the European court? - Time will show.  

Karine Ionesyan

Source - www.hra.am