The sixth lawsuit against local daily Hraparak is unprecedented. The attorney suing the newspaper, Artur Grigoryan, has launched a lawsuit for 6 comments left by readers below an article titled "Are Citizens Victims of Dishonest Lawyers?" published on the newspaper's online version.
The attorney finds that the comments sully his honor and dignity and as compensation for insult and defamation, he is demanding 18 million drams ($47,000 USD) from the newspaper — 3 million drams per comment.
In Hraparak editor Armine Ohanyan's opinion, since the comments were made on the Internet, which is not regulated by legislation, this lawsuit aims to set a precedent.
President of the Yerevan-based Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression (CPFE) Ashot Melikyan likewise finds that this might set a dangerous precedent.
"If judicial acts connected with opinions and comments posted online begin [to be established], either the Internet has to be shut down altogether, which is not appropriate for democracy, or censorship is introduced," he said.
Furthermore, the CPFE president finds that Artur Grigoryan is not making a demand that's appropriate for a lawyer — by asking for the highest amount of compensation in lawsuits against news outlets in practice.
According to attorney Grigor Bekmezyan, the article on insult and defamation defines direct accountability for the defamer; however, the ambiguity of the article might allow different interpretations.
"Article 1087.1 is written so vaguely that, in fact, in some cases it may give rise to such talk. If a comment is posted online and it's unclear who the author is, it means that the owner of the webpage has to bear responsibility," he said.
In the attorney's words, however, this doesn't mean that the website has to be held accountable because it didn't publish or disseminate the insult and defamation — it simply provided the opportunity for others to express themselves.
"If we permit that in such cases owners of websites are to be held accountable, this might give rise to great abuses. If we view this as a type of responsibility, then there should be numerous lawsuits against Facebook — where anyone and everyone writes whatever they want about others often under pseudonyms," he said.
Bekmezyan finds that this precedent will lead to censorship, as a result of which websites will no longer be able to survive since their purpose is to provide an opportunity for people to express themselves.
Media expert Mesrop Harutyunyan advises news outlets to set rules for posting comments in order to avoid such situations.
"It won't be censorship; simply that the news outlet will set the conditions under which it will publish comments. Even though it won't justify the judicial process that has begun against Hraparak," he said.
The provisions of the RA Civil Code Article on Insult and Defamation, which has become the reason for the abundance of lawsuits against local newspapers, are currently being challenged in the Constitutional Court. RA Human Rights Defender Karen Andreasyan appealed to the court in early October with the request to recognize the provisions of Article 1087.1 as unconstitutional. The Constitutional Court will examine the Human Rights Defender's appeal on Nov. 15.