An Armenian journalist insisted in court on Thursday that the former president’s reply to the head of a U.S. government agency over the latter’s warning to discontinue crucial aid to Armenia should not be kept secret from the public.
John Danilovich, head of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), addressed a letter to Robert Kocharian in March 2008 warning that the U.S. government agency managing the $235.6 million aid package could “suspend or terminate” the projects due to the dramatic post-election developments in Armenia.
At least ten people died and many more were injured in Armenia’s worst post-election violence on March 1, 2008. Clashes between security forces and demonstrators erupted in capital Yerevan after police task force had been sent to end the nonstop protest by opposition supporters disputing the official outcome of the February 19 presidential election that gave victory to Kocharian’s ally Serzh Sarkisian.
Kocharian then imposed a 20-day state of emergency in capital Yerevan during which period hundreds of opposition members and supporters were arrested for their alleged roles in the melee.
Danilovich, in particular, said in his letter on March 11, 2008 that the MCC needed to be certain that its programs “operate in a democratic environment.”
“The MCC is reviewing operational aspects of its ongoing work in Armenia in light of these events, including the suspension of media freedoms and the imposition of a state of emergency, and is closely monitoring the situation with U.S. Government and donor colleagues,” he said.
Levon Barseghian, who heads a club of journalist in Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri, called it a ‘disgrace’ that even the council of MCC beneficiaries, to which he had been elected twice, never learned the contents of Kocharian’s reply to Danilovich’s letter.
Kocharian’s representative Karen Karapetian did not attend the initial hearing of the case. Instead, he had sent a written objection to the court, saying that “considering the state and public importance and significance of the relations between the Republic of Armenia and the MCC, it is the outcome rather than the course of the formation of those relations that constitutes ‘information’…”
Karapetian insisted that the former president’s reply in writing was not classed as ‘information’ and, therefore, was not subject to revelation.
According to independent law expert Hrair Tovmasian, Armenia’s law “On Freedom of Information” may be not applicable to notes of the head of state, even if they are of public importance.
“Relevance to the public domain is not enough for it to become subject to corresponding requirements of the Freedom of Information [legislation],” said Tovmasian.
Meanwhile, Barseghian disagreed: “What kind of paper is that?... I heard that Robert Kocharian wrote in that letter something like ‘if you don’t provide [funding], then don’t’. How can I check now whether this person said that or not?”
Last month, the MCC effectively terminated a $67 million project aimed at rebuilding and repairing about 1,000 kilometers of rural roads in Armenia.