Civil activists in Armenia have described as a ‘disgrace’ a recent court ruling rejecting the lawsuit of a group of citizens against a local pro-government newspaper in a libel case.
Apart from refusing to grant the 5 million AMD (about $12,500) claim against the Iravunk daily, the court in Yerevan ordered the 16 citizens to pay 300,000 AMD (about $750) each to cover the legal expenses of the paper and the author of its article contested as libelous.
Iravunk, which is owned by lawmaker Hayk Babukhanyan, who is affiliated with the faction of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, last spring published an article headlined “Black List of Enemies of the Nation and the State”. It presented the names and photographs of 60 individuals, calling on employers and state agencies not to give jobs to these people or to sack them at the first opportunity if they are already employed. The paper also advised its ordinary readers not to say hello to the mentioned individuals and not to help them in any matter.
The paper claimed the “blacklisted” individuals participated in a campaign against singers Inga and Anush Arshakians over their controversial statements about the 2014 Eurovision winner, Conchita Wurst, a bearded drag queen from Austria, made during a Facebook conference with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service in May.
Gayane Arustamian, one of the “blacklisted” citizens, said that several days before the publication of the court ruling President Serzh Sarkisian personally attended an event dedicated to the 25th anniversary of Iravunk’s establishment and awarded Babukhanian with a Movses Khorenatsi order, one of the highest state decorations in Armenia. Other employees of the newspaper also received medals from the president.
“We were looking for justice and got a decision of a puppet court guided by the monstrous laws of a fascist regime. This decision, in fact, legitimizes manhunt in this country, because Serzh Sarkisian awards the administration of a media outlet preaching misanthropy,” Arustamian said. “It means that he [Sarkisian] personally encourages defamation of character by media in Armenia and the ‘blacklisting’ of dissidents for the purpose of suppressing free speech.”
Representatives of the Iravunk newspaper rejected the accusations voiced by civil activists.