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Armenian Court Upholds Ruling In Ex-President's Libel Suit

Former Armenian President Robert Kocharian.

Former Armenian President Robert Kocharian.

YEREVAN -- Armenia's appeals court has upheld a ruling ordering a pro-opposition newspaper to pay the family of former President Robert Kocharian 3 million drams ($8,000) in damages for defamation, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

The case stems from a series of articles published by the daily "Zhamanak" one year ago. The paper linked Kocharian's wife, Bella, with major trade in medicines and claimed that their older son, Sedrak, owns diamond mines in India.

It also accused Sedrak Kocharian of defrauding an Armenian businessman.

The Kocharian family condemned the articles as untrue and libelous when it took "Zhamanak" to court in December. The newspaper stood by its stories before it offered an out-of-court settlement to the family early this year. But the two sides failed to agree on a deal.

A district court in Yerevan ruled in the Kocharians' favor in June but cut the amount of the financial compensation demanded by the family in half.

"Zhamanak" then lodged an appeal against what it considers an unfair and politically motivated verdict against it. That appeal was rejected today by the appeals court.

Nikolay Baghdasarian, the "Zhamanak" lawyer, criticized the decision, saying the court did not listen to his arguments and instead executed a political order.

"In my view, judges ask someone before making decisions in such cases," he told RFE/RL.

Baghdasarian added that the newspaper will appeal to the higher Court of Cassation. But he admitted that court is unlikely to overturn the libel ruling.

Kocharian, who was president from 1998 to 2008, is also locked in a court battle with the newspaper "Hraparak," which is also highly critical of his legacy.

He took the independent daily to court and demanded 6 million drams in damages in February after it labeled him as "bloodthirsty" and someone who is also notorious for his "particularly brilliant foolishness."

Both cases highlight a sharp increase in the number of libel suits lodged against media outlets that followed the passage in May 2010 of legislation toughening punishment for defamation.

Armenian media associations view that as a serious threat to press freedom.

The state human rights ombudsman, Karen Andreasian, has added his voice to those concerns, asking the country's Constitutional Court to consider declaring the controversial law unconstitutional.

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