October 1, 2022, Yerevan
On September 29, 2022 the editorial office of “Zhoghovurd” daily issued a statement alerting that a ban was imposed on their bank account. It turned out to be related to the execution of the ruling issued in the court case of Samvel Kharazyan vs. “Zhoghovurd Daily Editorial Office” LLC, which obliged the media to apologize publicly for defaming the plaintiff’s honor and dignity and pay 150 thousand AMD as lawyer’s remuneration and 4 thousand AMD as state duty.
Former official Samvel Kharazyan had filed a lawsuit against the media on September 16, 2021 for the article “The government will give positions to the corrupt cadres left from the times of the “formers”: there is a lack of professionals” published on August 10 of the same year. Thus, “for the position of Deputy Minister of Health the name of Samvel Kharazyan is being circulated, who has for many years worked as head of department at the State Health Agency under the “formers” and what is most noteworthy… even managed to get arrested on the charge of abuse of office…”
On April 13, 2022 the Court of General Jurisdiction of Yerevan rejected the plaintiff’s claim for monetary compensation and upheld only the non-financial part, obliging the media to also pay court expenses. The non-payment of those fees on time resulted in the ban on the bank account of the editorial office by the Compulsory Enforcement Service.
Having examined the issue, we note that the media:
- did not use the services of a lawyer in the given court case, that is, it did not have a chance to professionally defend its rights;
- failed to use the opportunity to challenge the decision, missing the deadline;
- failed to pay the court expenses stipulated by the judgment on time.
However, in contract to all this, yet during the trial the media offered the plaintiff to specify what expressions in the article in question were defamatory and reach a settlement through a refutation or an article in reply. Upon the receipt of the verdict, the media asked the plaintiff to pay the court expenses in parts due to its financial difficulties. In both cases “Zhoghovurd Daily Editorial Office” LLC got a rejection.
In fact, the court did not show sufficient consistency in distributing the burden of proofs and substantiations between the parties and examining them thoroughly. Whereas, in reply to its inquiry the editorial office received an official response from the RA Investigative Committee, which confirmed that the plaintiff had indeed been prosecuted on the charge of abuse of official powers, and the prosecution had terminated as he had agreed to return the money and had repented for his actions. Thus, it is obvious that the media did not disseminate any untrue information, hence, holding “Zhoghovurd Daily Editorial Office” LLC liable for defaming the plaintiff’s honor and dignity and all related court decisions appear to be groundless.
These facts indicate that although the partial freezing of the defendant’s bank account as a standalone act is almost legally invulnerable, nevertheless, the whole process is aimed not so much at the proportional legal protection of an individual, but at punishing the media by all possible means, which is unacceptable.
Besides, this is also evidenced by the fact that when after receiving the court’s verdict the editorial office applied to the Investigative Committee and received an official response on the former official’s prosecution and published that information, Samvel Kharazyan filed another lawsuit against the media.
We, the undersigned journalistic organizations, strongly condemn this vicious process of placing additional pressure on the media, “punishing” it through judicial mechanisms in an information dispute, especially since this is not a unique case. Such disputes, provided they are not aimed at disrupting the normal operation of the media, can be resolved more quickly and efficiently through extrajudicial mechanisms.
We will be closely following the review process of the new lawsuit filed on the same occasion, as we are interested in maintaining a fair balance between the protection of freedom of expression on the one hand, and the right to be free from remarks against the reputation and dignity of an individual on the other hand.
Meanwhile, we call on “Zhoghovurd Daily Editorial Office” LLC to use the mechanisms of competitive proceedings and consistently defend its right to free expression. We also express our readiness to support the media in taking such steps.
COMMITTEE TO PROTECT FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
YEREVAN PRESS CLUB
MEDIA INITIATIVES CENTER
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION CENTER
MEDIA DIVERSITY INSTITUTE-ARMENIA
PUBLIC JOURNALISM CLUB
“JOURNALISTS FOR THE FUTURE” NGO
“JOURNALISTS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS” NGO
GORIS PRESS CLUB