The editors of two Armenian newspapers locked in court battles with former President Robert Kocharian on Thursday urged other media outlets to close ranks behind them and fight against increased libel cases against the press.
They said the media not controlled by the government should lobby for the repeal of defamation legislation enacted last year. They also urged newspapers to reprint articles that have landed their authors in court.
“We have to agree to reprint the articles that have led to judicial proceedings and thereby show solidarity with each other,” said Arman Babajanian, the editor of the “Zhamanak” daily.
“Nobody can guarantee that you won’t find yourselves in court one day,” Armine Ohanian, the editor of the “Hraparak” daily, said, appealing to her colleagues. She said the media campaign should target legislative amendments passed by the Armenian parliament in April 2010
Those decriminalized libel but drastically toughened financial penalties for such offences. The number of libel suits filed against Armenian newspapers, all of them critical of the government, has soared over the past year. The Yerevan-based Committee to Protect Freedom of Speech registered 12 such cases in the first quarter of this year.
One of the authors of the controversial amendments, Karen Andreasian, was recently appointed as Armenia’s human rights ombudsman.
“We need to exert influence on the legislative and executive branches,” Ohanian told a joint news conference with Babajanian.
“We need to pressure them,” she said. “We need to draw the ombudsman into this process, this debate. He got us in this mess and he must do everything to get us out of it.”
Kocharian has sued “Hraparak” and had its assets frozen by a Yerevan court in response to a February article that depicted him as a “blood-thirsty” individual who is also notorious for his “particularly brilliant foolishness.” He is seeking 6 million drams ($16,200) in damages.
Kocharian and his family demanded the same amount of financial compensation in a separate libel suit filed against “Zhamanak” late last year. The case stems from a September 2010 article which implicated the ex-president’s wife and older son in large-scale business activities. The plaintiffs say the “Zhamanak” claims are untrue and slanderous.
Both dailies have condemned the libel cases as an attempt to halt their operations.