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Constitutional Court Rules Lower Court’s Disclosure Order Against Armenian Media Outlets Unlawful

The Armenian Special Investigative Service (SIS) had no right to demand source disclosure from local “Hraparak” daily and iLur.am news outlet, as stated in the RA Constitutional Court verdict handed down Tuesday afternoon. The Court granted the appeals submitted by “Hraparak” attorneys Artak Zeynalyan and Ara Ghazaryan, and iLur.am attorneys Tigran Yegoryan and Lusine Hakobyan challenging the constitutionality of the Armenian Criminal Procedure Code Article 279 (Investigatory actions conducted by court decree) and Mass Media Law Article 5 (Protection of Sources of Information).

Recall, on June 26, 2014 a Yerevan court granted a claim filed by SIS and imposed a disclosure order on Hraparak and iLur.am, requiring them to reveal the identity of their source of information as part of the criminal investigation involving a high-level police official of Armenia's Shirak province

According to the Constitutional Court's decision, however, Article 279 has been applied inappropriately, and the case should be revised. The disputed article defines the series of investigatory actions, including those concerning the restriction of privacy of correspondence, telephone conversations, telegrams and other communications, that can be conducted by a court decree. Citing “other communications,” the investigative body had demanded that Hraparak and iLur.am disclose their anonymous source.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Hrapark lawyer Artak Zeynalyan said their team intends to file an application within a three-month period with the RA Court of Cassation for the reopening of the case. Attorney Ara Ghazaryan, in turn, added that the Constitutional Court ruling has legal force and advised journalists to cite the verdict if/when there are future attempts to involve them in investigative actions. 

According to international law, Zeynalyan stated, a reporter is only required to reveal information sources when it comes to imminent grave crimes, and in cases when source disclosure is the only way available to acquit a person accused of a serious crime. Democracy is based on freedom of expression, which is why, according to the attorney, steps toward restricting free speech should not be allowed.

“Even physical violence against journalists would not affect the flow of information coming from the media to the public as much as the compulsion to disclose sources. Once a journalist reveals a source, all their other sources will dry up,” Ara Ghazaryan said.