Wednesday, 11 December

Journalists keep fighting for public information

On August 10, 2004 the Administrative Court of Appeals of Armenia will begin reexamination of the suit brought by the Association of Investigative Journalists NGO against the Yerevan Mayor's Office. We remind you that last October, the association's chairman, Edik Baghdasaryan, requested permission from Mayor Yervand Zakharyan to see the decisions regarding land allocations in the public park surrounding Yerevan's Opera House taken from 1997 to 2003 by former mayors of Yerevan. "You must specify the exact kind of information you intend to receive from the Yerevan Mayor's Office," was the mayor's chief of staff Samvel Koshetsyan's reply to the request. The association then appealed to President Robert Kocharyan, who forwarded the letter to the mayor's office. Again, the association was turned down by the mayor's chief of staff. Unable to obtain the necessary information as provided by law, the Association of Investigative Journalists was forced to appeal to the court in the hope that it would oblige Mayor Zakharyan to fulfill his duty.

On June 21, 2004 , Judge Gayane Karakhanyan of the Court of First Instance of the Kentron and Nork-Marash Communities of Yerevan dismissed the complaint of the Association without substantiation.

After the verdict, Edik Baghdasaryan appealed to the Chairman of the Justice Council, President Kocharyan, to institute disciplinary proceedings against Judge Karakhanyan for displaying clear bias and unlawfulness while examining the case. His letter to the Justice Council stated: "We believed that after the manifestation of the same attitude of disrespect for the law by the Yerevan Mayor's Office in court, the court would have to oblige them to abide by the law. But Judge Gayane Karakhanyan, acting as if she were legal adviser to the Mayor's Office, and through her verdict by which she denied us information which contained no secret, once again proved her clear bias in favor of the Mayor's Office during the court proceedings. This was the reason why Gayane Karakhanyan found it difficult to mention in the substantiative part of her verdict the circumstances, arguments for refusing to admit certain evidence, or laws and legal acts by which the court was guided while arriving at the verdict. In the 'substantiation' of the verdict, the information required by the law is lacking. Thus the Judge has violated the Article 132 of the Administrative Code of Armenia."

President Kocharyan was also provided with other pieces of information: While in deliberation, the judge discussed the details of the case in progress over the telephone (journalists present in the hallways of the court can attest to this). The respondent's representative, Karine Danielyan, was allowed to freely go in and out of the judge's chambers during and after the proceedings. These facts show that the judge neglected the elementary rules of an unbiased court.

Following the verdict of the Court of First Instance, the Association of Investigative Journalists also wrote to the chairman of the newly-created Council on the Fight Against Corruption, Prime Minister Andranik Margaryan, asking him for support in obtaining public information. In response, we received a letter from Minister-Government Chief of Staff, Manuk Topuzyan, which read in part, "There is a court verdict which has come into force regarding the matter in question, and thus the government's staff has no right to discuss the issue." It defies logic that although our letter was addressed to the Council on Corruption, it was handled by Topuzyan, from the Government.

In order to check the willingness of the Mayor's Office to provide journalists with public information following this verdict, the association once again sent a letter of request to the Mayor's Office. This time we clearly mentioned the names of all the cafés located in the public park surrounding Yerevan 's Opera House, as the mayor's representatives had demanded during the court sessions. And again the Yerevan Mayor turned down the organization's request to see the decisions regarding land allocations taken by his predecessors.

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