By Hovannes ShoghikianA court in Yerevan opened on Friday hearings on the legality of a local government body’s decision to evict Armenia’s best-selling daily newspaper highly critical of the government from its state-owned offices.
The “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily has long leased the premises, located on the ground floor of an apartment building in downtown Yerevan, from the administration of the central Kentron district free of charge. A relevant lease agreement between the two entities was signed in 2003 and extended in 2007.
Kentron’s executive administration and legislative council decided to terminate the agreement and give the property to a little-known children’s cultural center last April, at the height of the Armenian government’s post-election crackdown on the opposition. “Haykakan Zhamanak” rejected the decision as politically motivated and challenged it in the court.
“It is hard to imagine what and how children will create on the damp ground floor of an apartment building,” its legal counsel, Tigran Atanesian, said at the start of the court hearings. “The only purpose of the decision is to restrict freedom of speech.”
Zaven Arakelian, a lawyer representing the Kentron administration, denied political motives behind the eviction order and said it did not violate any Armenian law. Arakelian argued that under the terms of the agreement with “Haykakan Zhamanak,” the administration was allowed to unilaterally end the lease.
The popular daily strongly backed opposition leader and former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s bid to return to power as a result of the February 19 presidential election. Its outspoken editor, Nikol Pashinian, was a key speaker at Ter-Petrosian’s massive post-election rallies in Yerevan.
Pashinian was among opposition leaders who went into hiding to avoid arrest following the deadly suppression of the protests. Despite remaining on the run, he continues to regularly write hard-hitting commentaries in his paper.
(Photolur photo: Pashinian addresses an opposition rally in Yerevan.)