Reporters Without Borders is concerned about all the libel actions being brought against Armenian newspapers and the disproportionate damages being demanded, which threaten their survival and create a climate that encourages self-censorship. This tendency to use lawsuits to throttle news media must be reined in.
The repeal of jail sentences for libel and slander in April 2010 was hailed as a democratic advance but judicial harassment of the media continues. There were 12 defamation actions during the first quarter of 2011 alone. Independent newspapers are the leading targets. The daily Jamanak is currently the subject of three different lawsuits. Haykakan Jamanak and Hraparak are also being sued.
In most cases the plaintiffs are politicians. On 18 April, Armenia’s highest appeal court ordered the news website Hetq, founded by the NGO Investigative Journalists, to pay Ijevan mayor Tavush Marz 450,000 drams (820 euros) in damages and publish a retraction. The suit was brought over a series of articles about embezzlement by local officials. Having exhausted all possibilities of appeal in Armenia, the NGO says it will take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.