An independent newspaper and an online news service have refused to comply with a court ruling ordering them to disclose the sources of their recent reports that accused a senior Armenian police officer of violent assault.
The daily “Hraparak” and ilur.am reported in early May that Vartan Nadarian, the police of chief of Armenia’s northwestern Shirak province, attacked two young men in a dispute outside the regional capital Gyumri. One of them turned out to be Artur Aleksanian, a prominent Armenian wrestler and three-time European champion.
Citing those reports, the Special Investigative Service (SIS) launched a criminal investigation into the alleged violence. The law-enforcement agency subordinate to state prosecutors told the two media outlets to disclose the sources of the information, saying that is necessary for solving the case. Both publications refused to do that, leading the SIS to take them to court.
A court in Yerevan backed the SIS demands earlier this week. “Hraparak” and ilur.am made clear on Thursday that they will appeal against the ruling and will not name their sources in any case. They accused the authorities of using the case to bully news organizations critical of the Armenian government.
Armine Ohanian, the editor of “Hraparak,” spoke of a “dangerous precedent” for restricting press freedom in the country. “They are clearly trying to tell the media to behave themselves,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Under Armenian law, courts can order media to disclose their sources if they deem that necessary for solving grave crimes. Editors and journalists defying such orders risk up to two months in prison. This legal provision has never been enforced before.
Levon Barseghian, the chairman of the Gyumri-based Asparez Journalists’ Club, claimed that the law-enforcement authorities are using the “Hraparak” and ilur.am defiance as an excuse for not prosecuting Nadarian. The senior policeman, who was allegedly drunk during the May incident, has not been charged yet.