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Zaruhi Mejlumyan

Investigative Journalists v Police: Judge in Freedom of Information Suit Demands Substantiation from Defendant

On September 22 Administrative Court Judge Lianna Hakobyan will hear two Freedom of Information suits filed by the Investigative Journalists NGO (IJ).

One has been filed against the General Prosecutor’s Office and the other against the Police Department.

IJ President Edik Baghdasaryan had sent an email request to Police Chief Vladimir Gasparyan, requesting that the department provide information as to how many complaints had the Police received regarding two citizens – Naira Asatryan and Varuzhan Margaryan – within the past five years.

Responding to Hetq’s request, M. Hakobyan, the former chief of the Police Department’s Legal Department, refused the request citing the RA Law on Freedom of Information and arguing that providing such information would violate the personal and family secrecy of the individuals in question.

At today’s preliminary court session, IJ attorney Grisha Balasanyan argued that the Police hadn’t substantiated this argument. Police attorney Artur Pivazyan argued the opposite.

Judge Hakobyan asked Pivazyan how are news outlets and NGOs supposed to obtain information regarding the possible criminal acts of certain individuals given that the individuals in question will not give their prior consent for having such information publicly divulged.

Pivazyan replied that the Police also provide information of a general nature.

Judge Hakobyan responded that the Police must prove how the provision of such information will interfere in their private lives and how the law regarding citizen’s privacy outweighs the law regarding freedom of information.

“Otherwise, according to that logic, we will have a situation in which providing information to news outlets and NGOs about anyone will not be possible,” Judge Hakobyan noted.

Attorney Grisha Balasanyan told the court that the Police have, in the past, provided information on other individuals and that their approach can thus be considered arbitrary.

Balasanyan argued that criminality is at the heart of the matter and not personal secrecy.

He presented the court with the Hetq articles published about Naira Asatryan and Varuzhan Margaryan and the fact that readers got in touch with Hetq claiming that these individuals had taken out loans from them and lost their apartments when they couldn’t pay the interest.

These readers who got in touch with Hetq also filed a complaint with the Police requesting that Asatryan and Margaryan be charged with usury.

Photo: Police Chief Vladimir Gasparyan (Police.am)