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Embattled Armenian Editors Seek Media Support

Karen Andreasian, Armenia's recently appointed human rights ombudsman
Karen Andreasian, Armenia's recently appointed human rights ombudsman
YEREVAN -- The editors of two Armenian newspapers locked in court battles with former President Robert Kocharian have urged other media outlets to help them battle the increased number of libel cases taken against the country's press, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

They said independent media should lobby for the repeal of defamation legislation that was enacted last year and urged newspapers to reprint the articles that are being called libelous.

"We have to agree to reprint the articles that have led to judicial proceedings and thereby show solidarity with each other," said Arman Babajanian, the editor of the daily "Zhamanak."

"Nobody can guarantee that you won't find yourselves in court one day," said Armine Ohanian, the editor of the daily "Hraparak," in appealing to her colleagues. She said the media campaign should target the legislative amendments passed by parliament in April 2010.

Those amendments decriminalized libel but drastically increased the financial penalties for such offenses.

The number of libel suits filed against Armenian newspapers, all of them critical of the government, has soared in the past year.

The Yerevan-based Committee to Protect Freedom of Speech registered 12 such cases in the first quarter of this year.

One of the authors of the controversial amendments, Karen Andreasian, was recently appointed Armenia's human rights ombudsman.

"We need to exert influence on the legislative and executive branches," Ohanian said at a joint news conference with Babajanian.

"We need to pressure them," she said. "We need to draw the ombudsman into this process, this debate. He got us into this mess and he must do everything to get us out of it."

Kocharian has sued "Hraparak" and had its assets frozen by a Yerevan court in response to a February article that called him a "bloodthirsty" individual who is also notorious for his "particularly brilliant foolishness." He is seeking 6 million drams ($16,200) in damages.

Kocharian and his family demanded the same amount of financial compensation in a separate libel suit filed against "Zhamanak" late last year. The case stems from a September 2010 article which claimed Kocharian's wife and older son were involved in large-scale business activities.

The plaintiffs say the "Zhamanak" claims are untrue and libelous.

Both dailies have condemned the libel cases as an attempt to halt their operations.