PARIS — Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a Paris-based international media watchdog, condemned Armenian law-enforcement authorities on Tuesday for prosecuting the editor of a media outlet critical of them.
“Reporters Without Borders is outraged that Kristine Khanumian, the editor of the news website Ilur.am, has been charged with refusing to comply with a court order to reveal her source for a report about a case of police abuse in June 2014,” RSF said in a statement. “This is the first time in Armenia that a journalist has been prosecuted for refusing to name a source.”
The statement quoted Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe desk, as saying that the criminal case is setting a “dangerous precedent for media freedom in Armenia.”
“The confidentiality of sources is an essential condition for journalistic freedom,” Bihr said. “As such, it is protected both by Armenian law and European Court of Human Rights case law. We urge the Special Investigation Service (SIS) to withdraw this charge immediately.”
The report in question implicated the then police chief of Armenia’s Shirak province in a violent attack on two young men. The SIS ordered Ilur.am as well as the Yerevan newspaper “Hraparak” to disclose their anonymous sources, saying that is necessary for solving the case.
Both publications refused to comply with the order backed by Armenian courts. Khanumian was formally charged last week under an article of the Armenian Criminal Code carrying heavy fines and up to two years in prison.
The young editor remained defiant Tuesday. “Naturally, our position remains the same,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).“It’s a position that befits a responsible media outlet.”
“We cannot put at risk not only our source but also freedom of speech in general and set a precedent that would leave other media outlets facing the same problem in the future,” added Khanumian.
The criminal charges leveled against her have also been criticized by the editors of leading Armenian newspapers as well as Dunja Mijatovic, the Vienna-based representative on press freedom of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. “Members of the media should not be held liable for publishing or disseminating information of public interest,” she said.
Noting that the authorities waited a long time before beginning their investigation, Khanumian said they were trying to blame Ilur.am and Hraparak for their inaction although they had always known Ilur.am and Hraparak would refuse to reveal their sources.
Armenia’s constitutional court is meanwhile due to issue a ruling in October on Hraparak’s request that the law under which Ilur.am and Hraparak were ordered to reveal their sources should be declared unconstitutional.
Armenia is ranked 78th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.