Wednesday 30 November 2011
Armenia is debating the repeal of controversial legislation that has led to a sharp increase in libel suits filed against media organisations. The country’s human rights ombudsman Karen Andreasian has urged the court to consider declaring the law unconstitutional after protests from editors of leading publications. Amendments to Armenia’s libel laws last year decriminalised libel, but toughened financial penalties. After that at least 15 libel suits have been filed by government officials, including former president Robert Kocharian, and businessmen with government connections.
In a joint statement on October 19, editors of Armenia’s leading newspapers said the “the authorities had used the changes with the sole aim of strangling the independent media financially or introducing self-censorship among journalists.” Bagrat Yesayan, editor of the daily Yerkir, said, “there is a danger that in the very near future print media outlets will be unable to pay heavy libel damages and will be forced to shut down.”