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Kristine Aghalaryan

Investigative Journalists NGO Demands Annulment of Lower Court Ruling

"Interfering in the Exercise of Freedom of Expression Does Not Pursue any Lawful Objective" The headline above is one of the grounds of the appeal presented by the Investigative Journalists that was heard today by the RA Civil Court of Appeals, Judge Nakhshun Tavaratsyan presiding. The Investigative Journalists claim that the requirements of Article 27 of the RA Constitution and Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms were violated in the lower court and that Article 15, Part 4, of the RA Criminal Code, was never implemented. Thus, the court, by sustaining the suit of the Ijevan Municipality, interfered in the right of the Investigative Journalists NGO to exercise freedom of speech and that it pursued no legal objective in doing so. Furthermore, interfering in the reporter’s freedom of expression did not occur in the context of a “necessity in a democratic society”. The court did not take into consideration the theme of publication, the overriding necessity to guarantee the defense of the press and NGO’s, the position occupied by the defendant (the target of criticism), the formulations used in the articles, and the amount of compensation demanded by the defendant. We remind readers that the Investigative Journalists NGO is contesting the verdict passed by the Kentron and Nork-Marash First Instance Court of General Jurisdiction (Judge Gagik Khandanyan presiding) that obligates the Investigative Journalists to issue a renunciation of the information and materials that defame the working reputation of the Ijevan Municipality and the dignity, honor and working reputation of Ijevan Mayor V. Nersisyan and to state that such information does not correspond to reality. 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. In the original Hetq article by reporter Voskan Sargsyan, at issue was the illegal sand mine operation at the White Water reservoir located with the administrative borders of Ijevan and its direct impact on community residents The title of the above article and the thrust of the article itself, raise questions regarding the issue – “Who is Pocketing the Profits from the Sand Mine?” and “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?” “On numerous occasions, the European Court of Human Rights has noted that, in the case when political discourse or discussions in the public interest occur, the restrictions mentioned in Article 10 Part 2 of the Convention cannot be widely exercised,” claims attorney Vahe Grigoryan who is representing the Investigative Journalists.  Mr. Grigoryan also notes that the observation made by the reporter as to Mayor Nersisyan’s oversight of the sand mining operation only came after a thorough investigation of the issue. As regards the monetary amounts set by the court, attorney Grigoryan notes that here too the principle of proportion has been violated since the 930,000 AMD figure clearly surpasses the monthly income of the Investigative Journalists NGO and that such a decision threatens the future existence of the IV. The Investigative Journalists NGO has directed the court’s attention to the fact that the examination of this case began in June, 2008, that it has inexcusably dragged on for more than 25 months, and that the case is still open. In this connection, the IV has requested as speedy an examination as possible within a reasonable timeframe according to Article 6, Part 1, of the Convention. Based on the above grounds, the Investigative Journalists NGO demands a full annulment of the verdict handed down by the Yerevan Kentron and Nork-Marash General Jurisdiction Court and its revision; i.e. rejection of the suit. Despite the fact that Gevorg Davtyan, the legal representative of the Ijevan Municipality and the Ijevan Mayor, presented a motion at the preceding court session requesting time to present arguments, however, he never did so. Today, November 10, the Appeals Court has completed its examination of the complaint. The court has stated that it will announce its decision at 4pm on November 24.