Armenia’s Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld a lower court ruling that ordered a pro-opposition newspaper to pay the family of former President Robert Kocharian 3 million drams ($8,000) in libel damages.
The case stems from a series of articles that were published by the “Zhamanak” daily a year ago. The paper linked Kocharian’s wife Bella with trade in medicines and claimed that his older son Sedrak owns diamond mines in India. It also accused Sedrak Kocharian of defrauding an Armenian businessman.
The Kocharian family condemned those articles as untrue and slanderous as it took “Zhamanak” to court last December. The paper denied any wrongdoing before offering an out-of-court settlement to the family early this year. The two sides failed to agree on settlement terms, however.
A district court in Yerevan ruled in the family’s favor in June. Still, it cut by half the amount of financial compensation demanded by the plaintiff.
“Zhamanak” lodged an appeal against what it considers an unfair and politically motivated verdict shortly afterwards. But it was rejected by the Court of Appeals.
Nikolay Baghdasarian, the “Zhamanak” lawyer, criticized the decision, saying that the court did not listen to his arguments and executed instead a political order. “In my view, judges ask someone before making decisions in such cases,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Baghdasarian added that the newspaper will appeal to the higher Court of Cassation. But he admitted that the court is unlikely to overturn the libel rulings.
Kocharian, who governed Armenia from 1998-2008, is also locked in a court battle with another newspaper highly critical of his legacy, “Hraparak.” He took the independent daily to court and demanded 6 million drams in damages in February after it labeled him as a “blood-thirsty” individual who is also notorious for his “particularly brilliant foolishness.”
Both cases highlight a sharp increase in the number of libel suits lodged against media outlets following the passage in May 2010 of new legislation toughening punishment for defamation. Armenian media associations view it as a serious threat to press freedom.
The state human rights ombudsman, Karen Andreasian, has added his voice to those concerns, asking the country’s Constitutional Court to consider declaring the controversial law unconstitutional.