Lawyer Claims Newspaper Responsible for "Defamatory" Comments Left by Readers
On February 24, the slander suit brought by Artur Grigoryan against the newspaper Hraparak got underway at the Kentron and Nork-Marash District Court in Yerevan.
Attorney Artur Grigoryan is suing the newspaper based on comments left by readers under an August 2011 article entitled “Citizens Fall Prey to Unscrupulous Lawyers?” that appeared in Hraparak’s internet edition. The article dealt with customers dissatisfied with Grigoryan’s legal services
The attorney claims that the comments had defamed his dignity and honor.
At today’s session, Grigoryan’s lawyer, Tigran Atanesyan, presented the court with the following six comments that his client had found offensive.
Sahak: Due to Artur Grigoryan’s procrastination we lost the right to appeal the court’s decision regarding our house on Northern Avenue...We ten found out that he was paid to screw up the case. ...He also has a terrible disposition, let the Chamber of Advocates try and fix it.
Garik: That disagreeable ruffian, the so-called lawyer, is nothing but a liar. We initially signed a contract for 150,000 for his services, but he later jacked up the price to 600,000. All he did was to try to get the case resolved by negotiating with the judge. He told us to pay him, that he reached an agreement with the judge. So why should we have paid him all that money?
Iskouhie: I’m just amazed how people can trust somebody like that. His looks alone would make anyone think twice before giving him a case to handle. They make out that they know English to boost their reputations and thus deceive the people. The lawyers and the judges are in cahoots and all the verdicts are based on bribes.
Anahit: I am an attorney and I really am ashamed that he calls himself a lawyer. He is obligated to tell people that the European Court accepts legal suits written in Armenian and that English isn’t necessary. Of course, he never informed his clients about this. In addition, he could have easily found out the status of each case. I believe he did, but kept his clients in the dark.
Sergey: Just see if they told him that lying and extortion are inexcusable for a lawyer. This was a case of extortion...swindling money through deception. It’s the same with fortune-tellers.
Artak: It’s interesting that this lawyer expects to get a fair court hearing. Has he already bribed someone for a just verdict?
Artur Grigoryan appraised each of the six readers’ offensive comments at 3 million AMD (defamation-3 million and insult-1 million) for a total of 18 million.
The plaintiff had modified his suit, saying that the defendants could pay off the damages in monthly instalments of 250,000 AMD.
The prosecution presented articles written by others also defaming the plaintiff that appeared in the paper. These cases are now being heard in various Armenian courts.
Defense lawyer Gevorg Gevorgyan expressed his total opposition to the suit as presented. Gevorgyan argued that it first must be clarified who wrote the comments.
The lawyer argued that even the plaintiff agreed, in his speech, that the newspaper had merely published the comments written by others.
The defense noted that anyone could leave comments in such internet sites as facebook.com, odnoklassniki.ru and most news websites. The internet, the defense argued, offers readers the opportunity to express themselves and that Hraparak is also a vehicle for freedom of expression and doesn’t have the right or obligation to curtail such freedom.
Gevorgyan said that the paper couldn’t possibly monitor all comments left by readers and that, in any event, a news outlet has no responsibility to do so.
The lawyer continued that there was no premeditation on the part of Hraparak to keep the comments online for the period in question. Gevorgyan noted that according to a November 15 decision of the RA Constitutional Court, premeditation must be substantiated in such cases.
Hraparak Chief Editor Armineh Ohanyan told the court that the internet affords limitless possibilities and that monitoring or restricting them is not possible.
Ohanyan said that the newspaper had presented its readers to express their opinions just like any other news outlet. After reading the article, she said, that’s exactly what they did.
Ohanyan brought to the attention to the court a statement attributed to Artur Grigoryan that appeared in the press in which he states that the closing of Hraparak has become his new mission in life.
When asked by the plaintiff whether comments are monitored or not before being published, Ohanyan responded that this court case had taught them a valuable lesson and that as of October 2011 all comments are pre-screened. The editor said in the past all comments were automatically published when sent in.
The plaintiff also asked if it was possible to design the website in a way that comments weren’t automatically published. Ohanyan answered that it was.
With this the session ended. The next court date is scheduled for March 1.