A Yerevan court on Friday fined a pro-opposition newspaper and ordered it to retract a report that accused former President Robert Kocharian’s younger son of provoking a drunken argument in the United Arab Emirates last December.
The “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily claimed on February 6 that Levon Kocharian was detained by the Dubai police following the incident. Kocharian denied the report and demanded a retraction. The newspaper rejected the demand, leading him to sue it for defamation of character and demand over 16 million drams ($43,000) in compensatory damages.
The court partly satisfied the demand, forcing “Haykakan Zhamanak” to pay only 3.6 million drams to the younger Kocharian. The latter’s lawyer, Arpine Melikbekian, refused to comment on the ruling.
The “Haykakan Zhamanak” lawyer, Tigran Atanesian, denounced the ruling as “unfounded and illegal.” “This is a serious blow to freedom of speech in Armenia,” he said.
But the newspaper manager, Anna Hakobian, was more positive, saying that the judge in the case, Arayik Melkumian, “had the courage” not to impose the much heftier fine sought by Levon Kocharian. Still, she said “Haykakan Zhamanak” will appeal against the verdict. “What was published in our newspaper corresponded to reality and we simply used our legal right not to disclose our source,” insisted Hakobian.
During the litigation, Kocharian’s lawyers produced his two passports showing that the young man has not left Armenia in the last two years. “Haykakan Zhamanak” representatives asked the court to request relevant information from Armenian immigration authorities. The court turned down the request.
Its ruling came just one day before Levon Kocharian’s high-profile marriage to the Armenian pop singer Sirusho. Hundreds of guests are expected to attend their wedding party that will take place at a restaurant outside Yerevan.