Armenia’s Court of Appeals on Thursday declared illegal a lower court’s decision to give a law-enforcement agency access to the recordings of phone calls of a newspaper editor facing criminal proceedings.
The Special Investigative Service (SIS) launched the proceedings against the editor, Knar Manukian, shortly after her “Zhoghovurd” daily published a year ago leaked testimonies by ex-President Serzh Sarkisian and other former officials interrogated over the 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan. The SIS has repeatedly questioned her in connection with that it sees as illegal revelations, prompting accusations of harassment from the independent publication.
After Manukian refused to disclose the source of the leak, the SIS asked a district court judge in Yerevan to allow it to obtain her cellphone records. The judge granted the request.
Manukian says she learned about that decision and appealed against it after an SIS investigator informed her that he has the transcripts of her phone conversations with two other persons. She says the official asked her to reveal “which of these two individuals shared the March 1 [case] testimonies with you.”
The Court of Appeals backed the editor’s claim that the lower court authorization of the disclosure of her phone calls was illegal.
The chairman of the Yerevan Press Club, Boris Navasardian, welcomed the ruling, saying that the SIS actions are “definitely a cause for concern.” Navasardian said the law-enforcement body investigating the 2008 unrest is unjustly trying to shift responsibility for the leak to “Zhoghovurd” and its editor.
Manukian said she complained to Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian about the criminal proceedings launched against her during a New Year’s reception hosted by him for Armenian journalists. In her words, Pashinian, himself a former newspaper editor, assured her that there will be no violations of press freedom or the due process.
The “Zhoghovurd” editor on Thursday held SIS chief Sasun Khachatrian and Prosecutor-General Artur Davtian personally responsible for the attempts to force her to disclose her sources “in such a mean fashion.”
Manukian was most recently interrogated by the SIS in December. A few days later unknown intruders broke into the empty offices of “Zhoghovurd” and caused havoc there. They did not steal anything, according to the newspaper staff.
Taguhi Tovmasian, the paper’s founder who is currently a parliament deputy representing Pashinian’s My Step alliance, suggested that the intruders “looked for information.” Tovmasian described the overnight break-in as a serious threat to press freedom in Armenia. Nobody has been detained in connection with it so far.