Responding to international criticism, state prosecutors dropped on Friday controversial criminal charges that were levelled this month against the editor of an Armenian online publication critical of the government.
Prosecutor-General Gevorg Kostanian informed a senior official from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe about the decision in a letter made public by his office. The office also issued a separate statement to that effect.
Kristine Khanumian of the pro-opposition news website Ilur.am risked up to 2 years in prison for defying a court order to disclose the confidential source of a June 2014 report that accused a senior Armenian police officer of assaulting two young men outside Gyumri.
The Special Investigative Service (SIS), a law-enforcement body subordinate to prosecutors, last year ordered Ilur.am as well as the Yerevan newspaper “Hraparak” to disclose their anonymous sources, saying that is necessary for investigating the assault allegations. Both publications refused to comply with the order backed by Armenian courts.
The SIS’s decision earlier this month to prosecute Khanumian sparked an outcry from many Armenian media figures as well the Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders. The OSCE’ Vienna-based representative on press freedom, Dunja Mijatovic, also expressed concern at the criminal proceedings.
Mijatovic wrote to Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian on July 16, saying that journalists must not be prosecuted for “publishing or disseminating information of public interest.” She argued that the Ilur.am report did not contain state secrets relating to national security.
In his publicized letter to Mijatovic, Kostanian insisted that the SIS never sought to curb press freedom in Armenia and was only concerned with solving what he described as a “grave crime.” Nevertheless, he said, he has decided to close the criminal case because of Mijatovic’s concerns and “many other circumstances.”
Kostanian also announced that he will organize in Yerevan in September a roundtable discussion with local reporters and press freedom campaigners that will focus on ways of “balancing freedom of speech and other vital interests of the public.” He invited Mijatovic to take part in the discussion or send representatives of her office.