February 13, 2020 - 19:59 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said on Thursday, February 13 that they are alarmed by an increase in the harassment of journalists in Armenia, where – despite a revolution in May 2018 – they are being subjected to defamation suits and attacks on their right to protect their sources.
The latest targets include Sona Harutyunyan, a journalist working for the news website 1in.am, who was sued by the pro-opposition news website News.am for suggesting in a Facebook post that News.am was owned by former President Robert Kocharyan. An appeal court ruled that she should have “quoted her source” and “verified the facts” although she was just expressing an opinion on an informal platform.
As a result, Harutyunyan had to post a retraction on Facebook. Many newspapers have reported the same rumor, which has never been denied, but so far the only newspaper to be sued has been Haykakan Zhamanak, which is owned by the Prime minister’s family.
The victims of harassment also include Qnar Manukyan, the editor of the daily Zhoghovurd, who is the target of criminal proceedings for refusing to reveal her sources. Her newspaper and the news site ArmLur.am say they were the targets of four attempts by prosecutors and the intelligence services to obtain sensitive information in 2019 alone. The NGO says more and more journalists are being summoned for questioning about stories they have covered although article 5 of Armenia’s mass media law supposedly guarantees the confidentiality of their sources.
The number of lawsuits alleging defamation or insult under 1087.1 of the civil code has tripled in the past four years. Armenia’s justice department reported 74 cases in 2019 against 24 in 2016. The lawsuits against journalists and media outlets are usually brought by politicians or businessmen, or sometimes by other media. Damages can be as much as 2 million drams (4,000 euros).
"After the revolution, Armenia’s ranking in RSF's World Press Freedom Index rose from 80th out of 180 countries in 2018 to 61st in 2019 but the judicial harassment of journalists could undermine its position in the 2020 Index," RSF said.