Wave of lawsuits against media outlets

Just enter the names of  “Union of Informed Citizens” NGO, founder of “Sut.am”, and “News.am” media outlet in the judicial information system, and you will see what a wave of lawsuits is coming against them.   

30 lawsuits by school and kindergarten directors against Daniel Ioannisyan, program coordinator of the “Union of Informed Citizens” NGO, founder of “Sut.am” news site, 16 lawsuits by advocates against “News AM” Ltd, founder of “News.am” media outlet.

The reason for the lawsuits, almost simultaneously brought by school and kindergarten directors, was the article under heading “RPA abuses the administrative resource at schools and kindergartens (114 recordings – 84 schools and 30 kindergartens)” published on March 24 during the pre-election campaign, on “Sut.am” website, which discloses how the directors make lists of voters in favor of the Republican Party

The directors who enrolled votes for the RPA, considered this publication as slander, which, as if, defamed their honor and dignity. In all 30 lawsuits, they claimed to disprove the information in the article and to pay a compensation of AMD 2 million to each claimant. Thus, including court-related costs, the directors claim AMD 65 million.

Whereas Daniel Ioannisyan, program coordinator of the “Union of Informed Citizens” NGO qualified the lawsuits against him and the NGO as organized pressure and attempt to restrict freedom of expression. He also stated that turning to court on such issues is a mere political issue: “From the perspective of law we are clear… we did not slander anyone, we did not publish any lies, consequently there is no lie, there is no slander”, said Ioannisyan in an interview with “Hetq”.

On July 17, when the hearing of the lawsuit by 30 directors was launched, it became known, that all 30 directors, as if with a movement by a conductor’s stick, unanimously gave up their lawsuits, the same way they brought it.

The CPFE contacted some of the directors to find out the reasons for that. Anush Mkhitaryan, director of Yerevan Kindergarten 37, stated that it was her own decision to give up the lawsuit. The director did not want to clarify what the reason was, saying she could not say more. Gayane Melyan, director Yerevan Kindergarten 83 stated, that she did not know who Marianna Melyan was that brought a lawsuit (as a claimant the “Datalex” information system has the name Marianna Melyan). Then she angrily said, “We took back the lawsuit and that is it…”

Naira Manoukyan, director of Yerevan School 34 said that was the way she thought it expedient to do: “That is my personal decision, I regretted doing it”, she stated and quickly turned off the phone like her colleague directors did.

Inga Khachaturova, director of Yerevan Kindergarten 25, as well repeated what the directors said: she gave up the lawsuits by her own decision. To the question, how come 30 directors decided to bring a lawsuit at the same time, and decided to give up at the same time, she replied, “I do not know many of those directors, I did not talk to them. I myself decided to give up the lawsuit.” We wondered what the reason for that decision was; whether she had changed her mind, she did not consider the publication as slander. Inga Khachaturova replied, that her complaint was against secret recording: “Secret recording is not a good thing. Then I was angry, I turned to court, now I have calmed down and decided to take the lawsuit back.”

By the way, the kindergarten director again expressed the same opinion, that all that could not be abuse of administrative resource, as deal with that issue in the evening, after the working hours. In fact, irrespective of the scandalous disclosure, the criticism following all that, the incident, unfortunately, did not have any impact on the mindset of the directors working in the system of general educational system. The question arises, even though talking to the parents of the student in the evening they were representing themselves as who: did they stop being a school or kindergarten director, or the parents did not perceive them as such.

Although the directors introduced the fact of giving up the lawsuits as “spontaneous”, Danie Iioannisyan is of a different opinion. According to him, it was their decision but not their initiative. “It is clear, they would not say that they called from the Party and instructed to take back the lawsuits. It is obvious that all that was organized; RPA Deputy Chair Armen Ashotyan did not even hide, that it was his idea. The way they instructed them to turn to court, the same way they instructed them to give up the lawsuits”, said Daniel Ioannisyan in conversation with CPFE. According to him, there would a number of information occasions, and the society will always recollect this incident. Moreover, “sooner or later we would win at one of the instances, either domestically or at the ECHR. The longer the case would go the longer the authorities would have headaches. The court would call the directors who would have to bring the lists they had made. As a witness they would call the people on the list…that would be a headache for years for the authorities, something they understood in time and got rid of it”, Ioannisyan stated.

 “Wave of lawsuits – 2”: advocates vs. “News.am” media outlet

The second wave of lawsuits is aimed at “News AM” Ltd, founder of “news.am” news site. Four advocates – Gevorg Mkrtchyan, Vrezh Khachikyan, Simon Babayan and Arsen Harutyunyan each brought four (total 16) lawsuits to Yerevan Ajapnyak and Davitashen administrative districts court of general jurisdiction with a claim to disprove the information considered as slander and to pay compensation for intangible damage. The reason for the lawsuits are the articles published on “news.am” website – “Victory of pndukism”: Armen Soghomonyan, beaten up by the managers of the CoA, was invited to interrogation as a defendant” (June 23), “If they think that Atanesyan and Soghomonyan will take back their complaints, they are terribly wrong: Lusine Sahakyan” (June 23), “It is just disgrace and evident illegitimacy: Tigran Atanesyan was invited to an interrogation as a suspect” (June 23), “Five persons charged in the case attack against Atanesyan and Soghomonyan” (June 26).

News.am” advocate Aramazd Kiviryan finds similarities between this attack against the mass media via lawsuits and the practice of bringing lawsuits by school and kindergarten directors with a movement of a conductor stick. According to him, in the case of the first, the Party gave instructions, in the second case it was the Chamber of Advocates was instructing. “The advocates who brought lawsuits, act upon the instruction by the current head of the chamber of advocates. In fact they could submit the claim in one lawsuit, as the parties are the same, but they divided and brought 16 lawsuits. I think this is the practice by the president of the chamber: this way they are trying to deplete the resource of the media outlet”, said Aramazd Kiviryan. The advocate qualified this wave of lawsuits as a pressure attempt against the media outlet.

In conversation with the CPFE, the claimant advocates stated the opposite – the media outlet exerted pressure on them through the publications.

According to advocate Simon Babayan, “News.am” regularly published information inconsistent with the reality and defaming his personality. “If we look at the issue in the context of journalist’s ethics, then we have to mention that this media outlet never tried to find out my opinion about the data introduced by it and inconsistent with the reality. Therefore it is evident that under these circumstances I have to claim for remedy of my violated rights”, said Simon Babayan.

Advocate Gevorg Mkrtchyan said, that via publishing the same disinformation in a constant and guided manner, “news.am” exerted pressure on him. Therefore, he enjoyed his constitutional right and brought a lawsuit.

For Aramazd Kiviryan, advocate of “news.am”, it has so far been unclear which part of the articles in question the advocates considered disinformation, slander. According to him, the articles published the fact how four advocates, the co-claimants, actually entered advocate Tigran Atanesyan’s office and used force against him and advocate Armen Soghomonyan. “The events of the day have been covered. By the way, many other media outlets have also covered the same events. Why is the same lawsuit not brought against others either? Which information in the article do they argue? Do they want to say they never entered the office? But did the media write like that? Do they want to say that?”, said Aramazd Kiviryan, adding they have not received all the applications.

CPFE tried to find out from the claimant advocates which information they found disinformation. They refrained from giving a clear answer, only stating that they wrote all the details in their claims.

From the legal perspective Aramazd Kiviryan does not see any grounds for the claims to be met, at the same time he says one cannot rely on the justice in the country: “Taking into consideration the fact of the Armenian justice system being a marionette, I cannot say whether justice will be carried out, or they will get out of the legal frames and will do what this or that person is instructing”, he stated.

Is it possible that the advocates, like the school and kindergarten directors, take back their lawsuits? It was hard for Aramazd Kiviryan to answer. “That depends on the instruction by the president of the chamber”, the advocate stated, at the same time highlighting, that in any case they will introduce their legal disposition about these lawsuits, and the advocates will receive the deserved response in the court.

Lilit Hovhannisyan