The editor of an Armenian pro-opposition media outlet is risking imprisonment for defying a controversial court order to disclose the source of its report that implicated a senior police officer in a violent assault last year.
The news service Ilur.am as well as the Yerevan daily “Hraparak” reported at the time that Vartan Nadarian, the then police of chief of Armenia’s 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. “Hraparak” and Ilur.am rejected the ruling upheld by higher courts. They accused the authorities of using the case to bully news organizations critical of them.
The SIS decided this week to press charges against the Ilur.am editor, Kristine Khanumian. She will be prosecuted under an article of the Armenian Criminal Code carrying heavy fines and up to two years in prison.
Khanumian remained defiant on Tuesday, saying that she will not disclose her news source in question. “For me, it’s a matter of professional principle,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “I can’t go against my professional principles.”
The young editor claimed that the Armenian authorities are now keen to both cover up the Gyumri assault and rein in media outlets not controlled by them.
Armine Ohanian, the “Hraparak” editor, described the case against Khanumian as a “disgrace.” “The authorities have stepped on a very dangerous path,” she said.
Earlier this year, “Hraparak” appealed to Armenia’s Constitutional Court to declare unconstitutional the legal clause cited by the SIS. The court is due to open hearings on the case in October. Ara Ghazarian, a lawyer representing “Hraparak,” said on Tuesday that the criminal case against Khanumian must be suspended pending a verdict on the appeal.
The criminal proceedings against the editor also prompted a joint statement by the editors of several Armenian newspapers. They condemned the case, saying that it is part of continuing government attempts to pressurize independent media.