On November 13 in Masis, at the court of primary jurisdiction of Ararat region hearings started on the suit of the resident of Khachpar village, Marineh Gabrielian, versus Karineh Ashughian, Chief Editor of “Ararat” regional newspaper. The plaintiff demands compensation for material losses equal to 125,000 AMD (about 0) she suffered, according to her assertions, as a result of previous trials between the parties that took place in 2001-2002.
This conflict has a long history. In June 2000, when Marineh Gabrielian was running for the position of the head of the village, “Ararat” newspaper published a letter, signed by 115 residents of Khachpar village, containing compromising information, such as the fact that in 1993 Ms. Gabrielian had been keeping an Azerbaijan prisoner of war and then, having established contact with his relatives, sold him to his family. In October of the same year, the editorial staff received the written demand of Ms. Gabrielian that a refutation should be published. However, the demand did not specify what the subject of the refutation was and what the grounds for it were. For this reason “Ararat” published the photocopy of the demand, and mentioned in the postscript that the newspaper had to reflect the opinion of 115 villagers, while Ms. Gabrielian, for her part, had a right to present her own arguments, which would be readily publicized by the editorial office. Marineh Gabrielian, who had lost the elections, addressed the court with the demand to publish a refutation.
The prolonged legal proceedings that followed (see details in the Annual Report of the Yerevan Press Club on Freedom of Speech in 2001 ) were suspended in September 2001. By the court decision, the case was transferred to RA General Prosecutor’s Office to investigate into the main subject matter of the dispute related to the war prisoner.
The case submitted to the General Prosecutor’s Office was “redirected” for investigation to the Prosecutor’s Office of Ararat region. Several months later, the investigative bodies reached the conclusion which noted in particular that Marineh Gabrielian’s brother-in-law “under the circumstances unknown to the investigation, brought from Mountainous Karabagh to Khachpar a 18-20 years old Azerbaijanian with the aim of exchanging him for his son in captivity”. But given the absence of the plaintiff’s brother-in-law from Armenia, the circumstances of this case have remained in shadow. As the Prosecutor’s Office stated, “there is no factual evidence as to the sale of the war prisoner, (…) the war prisoner was not identified (…). In the course of 8 years, the war prisoner has not applied to RA law-and-order bodies about illegal actions against him”. The given statement actually testifies to the fact that the regional Prosecutor’s Office has not clarified anything (one cannot expect in full earnest that former Azerbaijani war prisoner will apply to Armenian investigative bodies). According to investigators’ reasoning, if no application has been filed, no prisoner has existed, although the Khachpar residents kept stating the contrary.
Based on the conclusion of the Prosecutor’s Office, the court of primary jurisdiction of Armavir region on June 24, 2002 made a decision to oblige “Ararat” newspaper to publish a refutation. “Ararat” Chief Editor Karineh Ashughian has confessed that she was worn out with prolonged trials, therefore she has not applied to the Court of Appeal although quite certain of not having violated the law. The refutation was published on July 17, 2002.
It seemed the conflict should have exhausted itself. But Ms. Gabrielian, apparently, inspired by the favor of justice in her regard, decided now to file a new suit on compensating material damage. Moreover, the presented bill was supposedly exaggerated: at the session of November 13, 2003, the plaintiff’s attorney quickly accepted the proposal of the judge to make a reconciliation agreement and reduced the sum demanded from 125,000 up to 50,000 AMD.
However, the defendant, this time more resolute in her intentions, declined this proposal and requested the court to consider the case in full detail. The judge met Karineh Ashughian’s request. Further on, having considered the arguments of the opposite side, “Ararat” Chief Editor forwarded a petition on giving her two weeks for preparation of a counter-claim about protection of honor, dignity and professional reputation, as well as about material compensation. This request was also satisfied.
The nest session is scheduled for November 28.
YPC Comments: In essence, a dangerous precedent has been created in Armenia: a newspaper is legally obliged to refute the information confirmed by 115 people. And if law-and-order bodies have been unable to clarify all the circumstances related to the case, it does not mean that the published information does not correspond to reality. The editorial office, in its turn, having identified the signatures of the letter authors and interrogated the village inhabitants anew, has exhausted all possibilities of verifying the authenticity of the information. Nevertheless, the newspaper has lost the case. And now it faces the claim to pay for “material damage”. How will the court react this time?