The directors of 30 public schools and kindergartens have sued an Armenian civil society group that tricked them into confessing that they told their staffs and children’s parents to vote for the ruling Republican Party (HHK) in this month’s parliamentary elections.
They are seeking a formal apology and a total of 60 million drams ($124,000) in damages for the scandalous revelations which they say compromised their “honor and dignity.”
The Union of Informed Citizens (UIC) revealed late last month that its activists posing as HHK representatives telephoned 136 schools and kindergarten chiefs across Armenia. It said 114 of them admitted drawing up lists of children’s parents as well as schoolteachers and kindergarten staff who pledged support for the HHK in the April 2 polls.
The UIC said the lists were submitted to local government bodies or HHK campaign offices. It also publicized audio of those phone conversations.
Armenian opposition forces portrayed the revelations as further proof of their allegations of HHK foul play in the parliamentary race. Some of them demanded that the Central Election Commission (CEC) seek a court ruling that would disqualify the HHK from the race. The CEC rejected those demands.
The HHK admitted that many school principals are campaigning for its election victory. But it claimed that they are doing so “beyond their work hours and work duties.”
An HHK deputy chairman, Armen Ashotian, approved of the lawsuit when he spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Tuesday.
Harutiun Harutiunian, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, claimed that the UIC revelations amounted to defamation of character. “My clients unequivocally assert that they did not abuse administrative resources,” he said.
Daniel Ioannisian, an UIC activist, countered that his civic group accused the ruling party, rather than the principals, of such abuses. “Let the Republican Party sue us and say that it didn’t abuse administrative resources,” he said. “In that case, we would have something to discuss.”
“We didn’t say that the principals are abusing administrative resources,” Ioannisian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “We only presented facts and evaluated the whole thing.”
The activist also claimed that the legal action was orchestrated by the HHK leadership in retaliation against the embarrassing revelations. It is aimed at restricting freedom of expression in Armenia, he said.
In a preliminary report released on April 3, European election observers mentioned the UIC recordings in the context of “credible reports of pressure and intimidation on voters, especially on private and public sector employees.”