Opposition Paper Again Fined For Libel

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–A court in Yerevan on Monday ordered the pro-opposition daily Armenian Times (Haykakan Zhamanak) to pay three government-connected businessmen 6 million drams ($16,500) in damages and retract its allegations that they engaged in criminal activity in Russia.

The case stems from a report published by “Haykakan Zhamanak” last October. It was based on claims made by Smbat Karakhanian, a Moscow-based Armenian opposition figure.

Karakhanian was quoted as alleging that Russian authorities suspect eight senior Armenian officials and businessmen, including President Serzh Sarkisian, of involvement in drug trafficking, money laundering and other grave crimes committed in Russia. Russian officials never confirmed that.

Three of the implicated “oligarchs” — Samvel Aleksanian, Ruben Hayrapetian and Levon Sargsian — sued “Haykakan Zhamanak” last month after it refused to run a retraction of what they say are false claims amounting to defamation of character. In a joint lawsuit, each of them demanded 2.5 million drams in moral damages.

Karine Petrosian, the judge in the case, backed their demands, while lowering the amount of fines sought by them. She said the newspaper’s claims are slanderous and unsubstantiated.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Anahit Sardarian, welcomed the ruling, saying that “Haykakan Zhamanak” failed to come up with any factual evidence during the court hearings. By contrast, she said, the plaintiffs presented the court with a statement by Russian prosecutors saying that her clients were never suspected of any criminal activity in Russia.

But Hayk Gevorgian, the paper’s managing editor, denounced the verdict as unfair and politically motivated. He insisted that “Haykakan Zhamanak” should not have been held accountable for Karakhanian’s claim and spoke of a “dangerous precedent” set for the Armenian media.

“From now on, everyone will be able to sue every media outlet for publishing information attributed to someone,” Gevorgian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. The newspaper will therefore appeal the verdict, he said.

“Haykakan Zhamanak,” which is Armenia’s best-selling daily, was already taken to court and fined 3.6 million drams in late 2009 for alleging that former President Robert Kocharian’s younger son, Levon, provoked a drunken brawl in the United Arab Emirates.

Gevorgian claimed that such lawsuits are aimed at financially strangling the paper. “They [the authorities] will see that only in their dreams,” he said.

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3 Comments

  1. Hayk said:

    Of course this Gevorgyan does not care about that money.
    This paper is Levonakan and funds are coming from foreign powers who needs Armenia with out armenians if not 100% than 99%.
    It is not true that Haykakan Jamanak is most famous paper in Armenia.
    I have a lot of friends and relatives in Armenia no one reeds it, not that they don’t reed at all.
    Last time this paper wrote about how National Football team of Armenia is going to sell the up coming game with Russia to Russia.
    They all envy what team has done, they have most goals scored in the group,
    Only 2 points behind Russia and
    shares 2nd,3rd,4th place with 7 points between very strong teams Ireland and Slovakia. After all this, if some paper writes that Armenian National football Team is going to sell the game for money with out any prove, should get sued.
    This is insulting to the haul Armenian Nation .

  2. Armanen said:

    Thank you Hayk for the points that you bring up.

    The paper in question is Armenia’s equivalent of the ‘National Inquirer’, minus the bat boy or big foot stories.
    They twist things to make them anti-establishment and anti-Armenian any chance they get. Now no one is calling for them to be shut down, but you’ll have some people claim Armenia has no freedom of speech or press. If that were true, this so called ‘newspaper’ would have been shut down a long time ago. And if freedom of speech entails spreading misinformation, then we don’t need this type of freedom.

  3. Andy said:

    Hayk, “Haykakan Zhamanak”, along with non-partisan “Hetq” (www.hetq.am) and A1+, is part of the desperate media that does not bow to the ruling powers. Just for that they have to be supported. If Levon comes to power (and I wholeheartedly will stand-up against his attempt to do so), and “Haykakan Zhamanak” does not remain in opposition – I will join you in challenging them. For now, by making outlandish (not to say stupid) claims such as “funds are coming from foreign powers who needs Armenia with out armenians if not 100% than 99%”, you only devalue your comments.

    P.S. Get a spell checker

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