By Karine Kalantarian
The European Court of Human Rights will likely agree next month to hold hearings and pass judgment on the hotly disputed closure three years ago of Armenia’s main independent television station, its lawyer predicted on Thursday.
Tigran Ter-Yesayan said he believes that the A1+ station’s appeal against the politically motivated revocation of its license will be the first Armenia-related case to be heard by the Strasbourg-based court. “We expect to receive final information about the A1+ case by the end of January,” he told RFE/RL.
A1+, the only national channel that was not controlled by the Armenian authorities, was taken off the air in April 2002 after losing its broadcasting frequency in a tender that was administered by a presidentially appointed regulatory body. The National Commission on Television and Radio blocked all of its subsequent attempts to win another frequency despite international pressure exerted on Yerevan. The Council of Europe and other international organizations say the A1+ closure dealt a serious blow to press freedom in Armenia.
A1+, which has been struggling to remain afloat by producing programs for regional TV stations and publishing a newspaper, appealed to the European Court of Human Rights more than two years ago after exhausting all possibilities of legal action in Armenia. The court, whose rulings are binding for all Council of Europe member states, is still examining the appeal.
“There has been a two-month break [in the examination process],” said Ter-Yesayan. “Until then the European Court was actively demanding written clarifications from the plaintiff and the government.”
With Council of Europe officials no longer raising the issue with Armenian leaders, a Strasbourg court verdict annulling the results of the April 2002 bidding appears to be A1+’s sole chance of resuming broadcasts in the foreseeable future. The Armenian authorities insist that the contest was legal and fair, a claim disputed by local and Western media watchdogs.
The A1+ appeal is only one of the cases filed with the European Court of Human Rights by Armenian citizens. Ter-Yesayan, whose Forum law firm helps Armenians make such appeals, said the court is currently considering accepting legal complaints from six opposition activists who were controversially imprisoned under Armenia’s Code of Administrative Offenses for their participation in unsanctioned anti-government demonstrations.
The Council of Europe considers the Soviet-era code an archaic tool of government repression and has repeatedly demanded that the Armenian authorities repeal it. The authorities used jail hundreds of people for up to 15 days both during the 2003 presidential election and last year’s opposition protests in Yerevan.