The court of first instance of Kentron and Nork-Marash administrative districts of Yerevan is again hearing a case against a journalist. This time the respondent is Ani Hovhannisyan, the reporter of Hetq weekly and online magazine. The plaintiff is the Rector of Yerevan Humanities Institute Mikayel Amirkhanyan. He has filed a defamation suit demanding to retract the information in the article “Yes, I Am Engaged in Business” published on June 7, 2010, as well as to compensate for slandering his good name, honor and reputation.
The plaintiff was probably offended by the fact that a young reporter had faithfully covered the situation and morals in the private higher educational institution headed by the rector. She did it in a rather objective way by having presented the opinions of the rector himself, the students and their parents. When reading the publication, it becomes obvious who is speaking the truth and who is trying to wriggle and stretch the reality. (We do recommend our readers to read Ani Hovhannisyan’s article at http://hetq.am/am/society/head-of-a-university/ and decide whether the author is objective or not).
According to the article, the rector tried to make money by having exploited the students in a rather unceremonious way, thus causing their indignation. The graduates of the institute note that they have a course in their diploma transcript which they never took. The entrance exams have a nature of formality in a form of an interview, which may take place any time without any deadline. Moreover, the students who can bring other people to study in this institute receive almost official fee discounts. The article says that the students have addressed the rector regarding the professional level of their lecturers, but the head of the institute treated their complaints as slander against those people. It is interesting whether the Ministry of Science and Education is aware of these problems, especially when this year it has implemented a well-grounded “clearance” in the field of private higher educational institutions?
However, if thoroughly reading Ani Hovhannisyan’s article, fiscal and law-enforcement bodies may also find food for thought. Meanwhile, the rector of Yerevan Humanities Institute himself files a complaint and demands a retraction. As the saying goes, offense is the best defense…
In her turn, Ani Hovhannisyan turned to the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression (CPFE) with the request to render her legal assistance. The Committee will provide such support. CPFE lawyer Olga Safaryan will represent the journalist’s interests in the court. It is remarkable that the plaintiff had recently called her and asked for a meeting. The rector was expected to admit his mistake and suggest an out-of-court settlement. However, he again insisted on the retraction of the information written in the article and the sides decided on … meeting in the court. The first session is scheduled for September 16, 2010.
The conflict is a good example of officials trying to settle a score with a journalist in the court by being beneath the criticism and treating it as a personal insult. Journalistic organizations warned about similar threats when the decriminalization of insult and libel was being implemented in the country, i.e. when the responsibility for similar delinquencies was transferred from the Criminal Code to the Civil Code. Here it is very important how the courts would behave when considering cases similar to ours and such cases in general.