By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Armenia’s main independent television station faces eviction from its government-owned editorial offices three years after being controversially taken off the air by authorities.
The once popular A1+ channel pledged on Thursday to appeal a court ruling obliging it to vacate the premises located in a building in central Yerevan belonging to the National Academy of Sciences. A1+ has leased them for the past 10 years and demands a compensation for $32,000 which it claims to have invested in the property.
The Academy has rejected the demand. Armenia’s Economic Court ruled in government-controlled institution’s favor on Monday.
The A1+ lawyer, Tigran Ter-Yesayan, said he will contest the ruling at the higher Court of Appeals. “I am convinced that if the Meltex company [which owns A1+] somehow supported the government, it would leave the building on good terms. It would definitely get a compensation and a new office.”
Also facing eviction are two non-governmental organizations renting office space in the same building. Another longtime tenant, an opposition party led by Soviet-era dissident Paruyr Hayrikian, was forced out last year in a move which it condemned as politically motivated.
The Academy of Sciences says it wants to give the premises to the staff of its two research institutes that will be relocated from another building in the city center. The building was controversial handed over to Armenian Apostolic Church last year. The church plans to build a new residence for Catholicos Garegin II in its place.
A1+ owner Mesrop Movsesian and his staff insist, however, that the eviction order is part of a government effort to perpetuate the de facto ban on the only Armenian channel that often criticized President Robert Kocharian.
A1+ was forced off the air in April 2002 in a controversial tender for its broadcasting license that was granted to a newly created pro-government company. The move was condemned by local and international media groups as a serious blow to press freedom in Armenia.
A1+ has since tried to remain afloat by producing programs for regional television stations, publishing a weekly newspaper and running an online news service. Its repeated attempts to receive a new air frequency were blocked by a regulatory commission appointed by Kocharian.
The A1+ staff, joined by other journalists and civil rights activists, marked on April 2 the third anniversary of the channel’s closure with a rally in Yerevan. A car that carried megaphones and placards used during the protest was impounded by the police later in the day and released a few days later.
Ter-Yesayan said the police have still not provided an explanation for what he described as an illegal action. He said A1+ will try to get its posters back by taking the police to court.