A court in Yerevan on Wednesday partly accepted libel claims made against the “Yerkir” daily by a wealthy businessman and parliament deputy close to the government.
The court ordered the newspaper to pay the businessman, Tigran Arzakantsian, 288,000 drams ($765) for a disparaging article about him published in January. The sum fell well short of 3.5 million drams in damages demanded by him.
The article in question accused Arzakantsian, who owns a brandy company and has other business interests, of leading a playboy lifestyle, frequently visiting casinos in Russia and making “a habit of being beaten up.” The article also pointed to his rare appearances in the Armenian parliament.
The court did not find these characterizations defamatory. But it said “Yerkir” did insult the plaintiff when it quoted Hrant Bagratian, an opposition politician and former brandy industry executive, as calling the businessman a “puppy” who “puts Armenia to shame in Russia with his cognac.”
In a written statement submitted by Arzakantsian’s lawyer Vache Hovsepian to the court, Bagratian claimed that he never made the offensive remark. That retraction was published by “Yerkir.”
“I can say that we are partly satisfied,” the paper’s editor-in-chief, Bagrat Yesayan, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service after the announcement of the verdict. “You can also say that we are partly dissatisfied.”
Hovsepian, for his part, refused to comment on the ruling. He said he does not know whether his client will appeal it.
The number of libel cases against media outlets critical of the current and previous Armenian governments has increased significantly since the passage of controversial amendments to Armenian defamation legislation in April 2010. Those amendments decriminalized libel but drastically toughened financial penalties for such offences.
Earlier this week, another Yerevan daily, “Zhamanak,” was ordered to pay the family of former President Robert Kocharian 3 million drams ($8,000) in damages for what it called slanderous reports that attributed extensive business interests to his relatives. The paper condemned the ruling as politically motivated and pledged to lodge an appeal.