A leading Armenian opposition newspaper slightly changed its name on Tuesday to get around a court order to suspend publication pending a verdict on its financial dispute with a printing company.
The private company Gind, which has printed the “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun” (Fourth Authority) daily until now, sued its parent company, Ogostos, earlier this year over its alleged failure to pay printing bills totaling about 5 million drams ($13,000).
A Yerevan court ordered Ogostos to stop publishing the paper at least until the end of the litigation. It issued another injunction last week after Ogostos ceded its publication rights to another, hitherto unknown, company in a bid to circumvent the publication ban.
Officials from Armenia’s Service for the Mandatory Execution of Judicial Acts (SMEJA) visited the offices of “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun” on Monday and warned the paper to comply with the ban. A similar warning was also issued to newspaper distribution agencies.
Some of those agencies did sell copies of the daily published under an altered title by another printing house the next day. Just how many of them were available for sale at kiosks across Yerevan was not clear, though.
With a daily circulation of roughly 5,200 copies, “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun” is one of the country’s best-selling dailies. The paper is known for his staunch support for the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) and harsh and often derogatory attacks on the government.
Its deputy editor, Armen Baghdasarian, denounced the court injunctions enforced by the SMEJA as “absolutely ludicrous” and politically motivated. “Armenia’s laws do not allow the suspension of newspapers,” he told RFE/RL. “A newspaper is not a legal entity in this country. The company publishing that newspaper is. So they are not allowed to do anything against our paper.”
“The court decision violates Article 27 of the Armenian constitution,” said Mesrop Harutiunian of the Yerevan-based Committee to Protect Freedom of Speech. He also cited a clause in an Armenian law on mass media which forbids restrictions on any “dissemination of information.” Like Baghdasarian, Harutiunian claimed that the publication ban is the result of a “political order” issued by the government.
Baghdasarian insisted that “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun” has already repaid its debts, a claim strongly denied by Karen Avetian, Gind’s executive director. Avetian also denied government pressure or any other political motives behind his company’s decision take the paper to court.
“There is nothing political here,” he told RFE/RL. “This printing company has operated for 10 years. Why is it that not a single newspaper has been denied publication before?”