Representatives of 16 NGOs, challenging the homophobic piece by the Chief Editor of “Iravunk” newspaper, forwarded an open letter to Karen Andreasian, the Human Rights Defender of Armenia. The letter expressed concern about the court decision that rejected the defamation lawsuit against the newspaper’s founder and Chief Editor.
As we have reported, on October 30, the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan dismissed the class action versus the founder of “Iravunk” newspaper, “Iravunk Media” LLC, and the newspaper Chief Editor Hovhannes Galajian. The reason for the lawsuit was the homophobic piece by Hovhannes Galajian “They Serve the Interests of the International Homosexual Lobby: Black List of Enemies of the Nation and the State”, published in “Iravunk” on May 17, 2014. The piece presented the “black list of traitors of the nation” – “lobbyists of homosexuals, aggressively trying to impose their rules in our country”, and contained links to their Facebook pages. The plaintiffs demanded refutation of the defamatory information and compensation for the damage caused by libel and insult in the amount of 5 million AMD (about 9,000 Euros). The Court not only dismissed the lawsuit, but also ruled that plaintiffs have to pay 300,000 AMD (approximately 580 euros) to reimburse lawyer fees of their opponents (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, October 27 – November 2, 2014).
The court ruling caused public outcry. In the November 5 statement thirty Armenian NGOs stressed that they find unacceptable the hate speech and calls for discrimination, along with inappropriate reactions of Armenian judiciary to it. With this decision the court puts at risk citizens’ safety and privacy, triggering more dangerous forms of discrimination in the future, the statement emphasized.
“No mechanism of freedom of speech protection applies to hate speech”, the Information Disputes Council (IDC) noted in its December 9 opinion. The court did not take into account the fact that “the piece voiced the expressions and appeals, which are manifestation of extremism and hate speech”, the IDC emphasized.
In the letter to the Human Rights Defender the 16 NGO representatives requested the ombudsman to give an assessment to the piece by “Iravunk” on whether it contained slanderous and abusive statements.
“The author of the piece (…) calls to show ‘zero tolerance’ to us, to stop communicating with us, not to employ and dismiss us from state bodies. The ‘blacklisting’, the making of targets of people, hate speech and inappropriate reactions of state institutions to this create the ground for spread of hatred to us and give green light to crimes motivated by hate”, the letter to the ombudsman reads (hereinafter quoted from Epress.am).
The authors of the letter expressed concern about the “selective, discriminatory attitude to them, while state officials not only fail to prevent or give an adequate assessment to hatred, but also widely promote it”. According to the authors of the letter, Hayk Babukhanian, Chair of “Iravunk” Editorial Board and MP from the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, “publicly promotes the stimulation of discrimination and hatred, insisting that offensive and discriminatory statements by the newspaper are not against the law”. At the same time, the fact that the President of Armenia has awarded Hayk Babukhanian with the Movses Khorenatsi Medal “proves that in Armenia the spread of opinions, causing segregation and divide in the society, is supported by the state”.