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Kristine Aghalaryan

Why the Court Ruled in Favor of the Ijevan Mayor and Against the Investigative Journalist, NGO

In its July 9 decision, upholding the suit of the Ijevan Municipality and the Ijevan Mayor against the "Investigative Journalists" NGO, presiding Judge Gagik Khandanyan of the Kentron and Nork-Marash District Court ruled that the two articles that originally appeared in Hetq, and which were the basis for the slander suit, contained "baseless information". Thus, the court ordered the "Investigative Journalists", NGO to publish an official retraction. The "Azg" newspaper was also ordered to print a retraction since the articles in question were published in the daily as well. The entire case stems from a May 26, 2008 article entitled, " Who is Pocketing the Profits from the Sand Mine?" by reporter Voskan Sargsyan. In the article, Sargsyan writes, "Who are the ones profiting from the resources of the reservoir and who, arguing that they are cleaning away the sediment, are reaping in illegal and non-taxed income? According to our information, this business operation is under the control of Varujan Nersisyan, the Mayor of Ijevan..." The court, in its deliberations, failed to take the last sentence into account, noting that he had sought verification with the proper authorities. It is the following excerpt, from a subsequent article entitled "Will three committees ‘see’ the illegal; exploitation of the reservoir’s sand" that was found to be so defamatory: "Just how proper is it to spend $3,000 of the community’s scare resources for absolution when there are thousands of unresolved problems in the town. For example, Mayor Nersisyan could have used the money to repair the pot-holed road leading to his private house. Every day, there are scores of Ijevan taxi drivers who have a few ‘choice words’ for the mayor." The court, in its ruling, cited various points of the law to claim that "slander" or "defamation of character" is defined as how the society at large sees it. The second point raised in the ruling is that the onus of proof is assumed by the defendant and that in this case the defendant did not adequately prove the assertions in the articles. The court decided in favour of the Ijevan Municipality to seize 930,000 AMD from the Investigative Journalists as compensation for the legal expenses incurred and 22,600 AMD in state penalties.