By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Armenia's leading parliamentary parties on Thursday criticized state prosecutors for launching criminal proceedings against the editor of a major newspaper critical of the authorities.
Nikol Pashinian of the "Haykakan Zhamanak" (Armenian Time) daily is facing a second criminal case in just over two years on charges of slandering Hovannes Yeritsian, head of the government's civil aviation agency. Pashinian has denied the charges.
Armenian law makes it easy for government officials and other individuals to sue media organizations for libel under a relevant article of the criminal code.
"I don't think that it was necessary to bring a case against Pashinian," said Galust Sahakian, leader of the pro-government Miasnutyun faction, the largest in the parliament. He argued against the application of the Armenian Criminal Code to libel cases.
The parliamentary leader of the influential Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), Aghvan Vartanian, also attacked the prosecutors. "It is inadmissible to deal with the media by resorting to legal action," Vartanian said.
Miasnik Malkhasian of the opposition Hayastan group, for his part, warned the authorities against any attempts to rein in independent media.
The case against Pashinian is based on an allegedly slanderous caption that accompanied a front-page photograph of Yeritsian in the November 6 issue of "Haykakan Zhamanak." "Degenerate officials recruited for the civil service," the caption read.
The National Press Club, an Armenian media association, on Wednesday urged the prosecutors to drop the proceedings. It said Pashinian's prosecution runs counter to the Armenian constitution which guarantees press freedom.