The Constitutional Court of Armenia on Tuesday ruled that journalists are not obliged to disclose their confidential sources of information in cases not involving heavy crimes and the need to protect a person.
The judges also decided that the previous rulings of Armenian courts to the opposite are subject to revision.
Lawyers Artak Zeynalian and Ara Ghazarian, who had appealed a number of controversial rulings against Armenian media that demanded that they disclose their sources of information or face criminal charges, expressed their satisfaction with the decision.
In July, responding to international criticism, state prosecutors in Armenia already dropped controversial criminal charges that had been leveled against the editor of an Armenian online publication critical of the government.
Kristine Khanumian of the pro-opposition news website Ilur.am risked up to two 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, insisting that was necessary for investigating the assault allegations. Both publications refused to comply with the order backed by Armenian courts.
The SIS’s decision to prosecute Khanumian sparked an outcry from many Armenian media figures as well as international watchdogs and organizations, including the Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Now Zeynalian and Ghazarian explained that while the decision of the Constitutional Court did not find the law unconstitutional, it found the application of some of its provisions to be unconstitutional.
“From now on Article 5 of the Media Law cannot be interpreted other than the definition given by the Constitutional Court in the concluding part of the ruling,” Zeynalian said.
Ghazarian added: “The phenomenon [requests for source disclosure] is not unconstitutional, but its application is unconstitutional as far the lack of certainty for journalists is concerned. The Code of Criminal Procedure today has a provision about ‘other information’ that can be interpreted as a confidential source of information and that does not provide certainty for a journalist.”
The lawyers said they are going to turn to the Court of Cassation soon with the request to reopen the cases that are now subject to revision.