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Hetq Takes Environment Ministry to Court to Obtain Endangered Animal Import/Export Permits

Hetq has taken the Ministry of Nature Protection to court in a freedom of information suit, after refusing to hand over documents pertaining to the trafficking of endangered animal species to Armenia.

The first trial session took place today at the Administrative Court.

Hetq had made the request, seeking to obtain the copies of export, sale or transport permits of rare animals as regulated by the CITES  for the period 2010-2013, for an investigative series it was working on entitled “Dangerous Monkey Business: Armenia’s Links to the Illegal Trafficking of Endangered Species.”

The ministry refused, arguing that such documents contained ‘secretive material’. It merely provided a list of animals imported to and exported from Armenia.

After this initial refusal by the ministry to provide the copies of the permits, Hetq suggested that any ‘secretive details’ be blacked out. The ministry again refused and sent the same list.

At today’s court session, Levon Gevorgyan, who serves as the head of the ministry’s judicial department, stated that the ministry had fully complied with Hetq’s request except for the names of the animal importers and exporters. He argued that such information contained trade secrets.

Grisha Balasanyan, representing Hetq (Investigative Journalists NGO), said that the ministry’s argument was legally groundless given that the names of the import/export companies couldn’t be considered a trade secret.

Balasanyan pointed out that the ministry had indeed provided a number of CITES permits to foreign reporters who had come to Armenia to shoot a film about the animal trafficking.

“If it’s a trade secret, how come such information was provided to foreign reporters and not to the Investigative Journalists NGO? This is nothing more than an arbitrary attitude,” Balasanyan said.

At the next court session, Balasanyan will present into evidence a video tape of ministry officials providing the foreign reporters with the CITES permits.

The ministry representative requested more time to familiarize himself with the video tape.