By Karine Kalantarian
The European Court of Human Rights would take years to hand down a ruling on an appeal to be brought by Armenia’s leading independent television effectively shut down by the authorities last April, its chief justice said on Thursday.
According to Luzius Wildhaber, the Strasbourg-based court operating under the auspices of the Council of Europe will not necessarily agree to consider the A1+ station’s arguments that its removal from the air violated Armenian law.
“It is probably unrealistic to expect us to come up with a judgement within less than two years,” Wildhaber told a group of local journalists during a fact-finding visit to Armenia.
A1+, which was often critical of the authorities, lost its air frequency in a politically charged bidding mandated by a controversial Armenian law on broadcasting. The contest was administered by the National Commission on Television and Radio appointed by President Robert Kocharian. The popular channel, backed by domestic and international media watchdogs, believes that the commission acted on Kocharian’s orders.
A1+ also claims that the bidding’s handling violated some provisions of the law in question. But its appeals have been turned down by various-level Armenian courts. The TV company, having exhausted all possibilities of legal action in Armenia, plans to formally appeal to the European Court on Saturday.
Set up under the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights, the court comprises judges from almost all Council of Europe member states. The judges are elected by the council’s Parliamentary Assembly for a six-year term from a pool of candidates suggested by member governments. Their rulings are binding for the latter.
But despite joining the organization in January 2001, the Armenian authorities have still to nominate their candidates and are therefore not under the court’s jurisdiction yet. Still, the court may accept cases from Armenian citizens before the election of an Armenian judge, which will likely take place next year.
Wildhaber, answering a question from an A1+ reporter, cautioned that the court received some 32,000 appeals from all over Europe last year but agreed to consider only 14,000 of them. He said preference is given to cases involving serious human rights abuses.
The Armenian government has promised Council of Europe to hold a new tender for several vacant frequencies by the end of this month, saying that A1+ will be well placed to win one of them. The A1+ staff treat the pledge with skepticism, however.