Civil society statement regarding the suppression of environmental activists by the judgments of the judicial system in the Republic of Armenia

Civil society statement regarding the suppression of environmental activists  by the judgments of the judicial system in the Republic of Armenia

On December 28, 2009, "Lydian Armenia" CJSC (formerly "Geotim" CJSC) despite numerous violations of the legislation received permission from the RA government to operate the Amulsar gold mine.

Residents of Jermuk community and surrounding villages, being very worried about the negative consequences of the Amulsar project, which directly affect the environment, people's health, the development of Jermuk spa, the quality of agricultural products, the Red-Book-listed animal species living and moving through the area, have been regularly resorting to various ways of protest, including civil actions since 2012, the time they learned about the project. Since June 22, 2018 they started blocking roads as a direct resistance and a demand to stop the mining process.

"Lydian Armenia" CJSC organized counter-actions, during which there were posters insulting the citizens opposing the mine, which caused social tension in the affected communities, and from 2018-2019, the company started lodging lawsuits against the most active citizens, demanding not to criticize the company, as well as to pay a large compensation for the alleged damage caused to the company's reputation.

Among other citizens, the environmentalist, public figure, journalist Tehmine Yenokyan, who is the head of the Green Armenia NGO, as well as is a resident of the affected Gndevaz village, actively spoke out against the exploitation of the Amulsar mine.

On September 12, 2018, residents of Jermuk, Gndevaz and Kechut villages organized a solidarity action dedicated to the defense of Amulsar: a motorcade throughout the affected region of Armenia and a people's march, which was concluded with a rally during which various speeches were delivered.

Among others, T․ Yenokyan spoke out. Her statements including the following verbatim: “I especially welcome all the people who are upholding our Amulsar strongholds for 51 days now and are not allowing a criminal like Lydian to continue their crimes. ... and I also want to say that over the years Lydian has provoked many times, spread false information, tried to incite hostilities within the community, between communities, as well as between states, it has tried to incite disputes both in Gndevaz, Jermuk, Kechut, and in Gorayk, Saravan and among a number of other communities…”

On September 5, 2019, "Lydian Armenia" CJSC filed a lawsuit against T. Yenokyan, demanding that she refute the words in her speech of September 12, 2018, claiming them to be a slander and insult. It also demanded to confiscate 1 000,000 AMD as compensation for the damage caused to their business reputation.

By a decision of December 15, 2021 Armenia's Court of first instance partially satisfied the claim of "Lydian Armenia" and ordered T. Yenokyan to refute the above-stated discrediting data. Regarding the assessment of the word “criminal” as an insult, the Court found that the Defendant was an ecologist by profession, and not a lawyer, so she could not understand the true meaning of the word she had uttered. Therefore, the claims for monetary compensation for non-pecuniary damage were denied.

Both Tehmine Yenokyan and “Lydian Armenia” CJSC filed an appeal against this decision to the Court of Appeals. On July 22, 2022 the court made a decision by which T. Yenokyan's complaint was rejected, and the complaint of “Lydian Armenia” CJSC was fully satisfied. The Court ordered T. Yenokyan to publicly refute the slanderous information and confiscate 500,000 AMD from her as slander and 500,000 AMD as material compensation for the insult to "Lydian Armenia" CJSC. The Court of Appeals also ordered T. Yenokyan to pay legal costs, including 24,000 AMD as an advance payment of the state fee and 200,000 AMD as a reasonable attorney's fee for Lydian's legal expenses.

  1. Yenokyan filed a complaint against the decision of the Court of Appeals to the Court of Cassation, which, however, was rejected by the decision of November 9, 2022 on the grounds that the Court of Appeals did not commit violations of such norms of material and procedural law, which violated the essence of justice. Thus, the decision of the Court of Appeals entered full legal force.

Based on the factual circumstances of the case and the judicial acts passed, it can be concluded that no slander and insults were committed by T. Enokyan and the judicial acts are groundless and unconstitutional for the following reasons:

- Despite the arguments presented to the Court that T. Yenokyan's expressions are evaluative in nature, the Court regarded them as factual data. Even in that case, it should have been guided by the Civil Code of the Republic of Armenia, which stipulates that the presentation of factual data is not considered slander defamation and insult if it is determined to be in the eminent public interest in the given situation and by its content (Civil Code of the Republic of Armenia, Article 1087.1, Clause 5).

- T. Yenokyan, as a resident of the affected community, an an environmentalist with many years of experience, a public figure and a journalist, was obliged to inform the members of her community about the processes carried out in relation to their living environment, the damage to nature, possible health problems and the rights of citizens.

- T. Yenokyan made purely evaluative expressions and did not present any factual data, she was guided by eminent public interest and therefore her expressions could not be qualified as defamation. She did not have any intention to slander and insult, and consideration of the actions of "Lydian Armenia" CJSC as a "crime" is purely her assessment of the company's attitude towards nature.

- The Court of Appeals of the Republic of Armenia examined the case in a written procedure, that is, it made a decision without calling court sessions and hearing the parties, completely overruling and changing the first instance verdict. The Court of Appeals could make such a decision when the factual circumstances confirmed by the Court of first instance make it possible to make such an act, and if it is in the interests of the efficiency of justice (Civil Procedure Code of RA, Article 380, Part 1, Clause 5) .

- The Court of Appeals could not change the verdict, because the factual circumstances confirmed by the Court of first instance do not allow such an act to be passed. In particular, the first instance Court did not refer to the method of defamation, the scope of dissemination, as well as T. Yenokyan's material situation, while according to Article 1087.1, Part 11 of the RA Civil Code, the court should have taken these circumstances into account when determining the amount of compensation. As a result, confiscation of an unprecedentedly disproportionate amount was determined, as a result of which T. Yenokyan has appeared in a difficult financial situation. This action comes to prove the fact that the decision of the Court of Cassation is not aimed at restoring the good reputation of the plaintiff, but rather to financially and morally oppress T. Yenokyan, limiting her freedom of speech and environmental activities.

- The RA Court of Cassation was obliged to accept T. Yenokyan's appeal, because there is a violation of T. Yenokyan's constitutional rights to freedom of speech, fair trial and property, especially that the two lower courts made contradictory decisions.

There are a number of decisions of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Armenia and the European Court of Human Rights, with which it is justified that the decisions of the Courts of the Republic of Armenia violated T. Yenokyan's freedom of speech, access to justice, fair trial and by establishing compensation for material damage, property rights were also violated as defined by the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia. In particular, were violated the rights defined by Articles 6 and 10 of the Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the rights defined by Article 1 of the amended 11th Protocol, the international legal principles stipulated on November 15, 2011 in the 997 decision of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Armenia.

We, the undersigned civil society organizations and active citizens of RA, believe that the trial against Tehmine Yenokyan endangers democratic values and has the intention not only to silence Tehmine Yenokyan, but also to have a chilling effect on the activities of environmental activists.

  • We find that the decisions made by the Courts limit Tehmine Yenokyan's rights to freedom of speech, fair trial and create a negative precedent in terms of suppressing and silencing activists and representatives of civil society in cases of public importance.
  • We call on the Human Rights Defender of RA to assess the persecutions against Tehmine Yenokyan and the attempts to judicially suppress activists and freedom of speech in RA, and to jointly protect the rights and freedoms of Tehmine Yenokyan and the civil society.
  • We demand from the RA Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Judicial Council to take steps to take disciplinary action in relation to the judges involved in the case of Tehmine Yenokyan, based on the blatant and gross violation of material and procedural norms in the administration of justice.
  1. Transparency International Anticorruption Center
  2. “Centre for Community Mobilization and Support” NGO
  3. “Armenian Forests” Environmental NGO
  4. “EcoLur” Informational NGO
  5. “Freedom of Information Center of Armenia” NGO (FOICA)
  6. “WOMEN'S SUPPORT CENTER” Public Organization
  7. Artur Grigoryan, specialist in environmental law
  8. “Human Rights House” Yerevan
  9. "Armenian Environmental Front" voluntary civic initiative
  10. “Free Citizen” NGO
  11. “Helsinki Citizens' Assembly-Vanadzor”
  12. “Direct Democracy” NGO
  13. “PINK” human rights defender NGO
  14. “Peace Dialogue” NGO
  15. “New Horizons” NGO
  16. "Center for public informativity and monitoring" NGO
  17. "DALMA-SONA" Foundation
  18. “Women's Resource Center”
  19. "Ecological Public Union" NGO
  20. “Civil Youth Center” NGO
  21. “Helsinki Association” human rights NGO 
  22. “Yerevan Press Club”
  23. Zara Hovhannisyan, human rights defender
  24. “Asparez” Journalists Club
  25. "Cinemart" Youth NGO
  26. “Youth Avangard” NGO
  27. Armine Zakaryan, activist
  28. "Spitak Helsinki Group" human rights NGO
  29. Lusine Sargsyan, journalist
  30. “Progress Gyumri Civil Society Center”
  31. “Ahnidzor Development Foundation”
  32. Hayk Matevosyan, activist
  33. “Committee to protect Freedom of Expression Public Organization” NGO
  34. "Consumers’ Consulting Center" NGO k H
  35. “Goris Press Club”
  36. “NGO Center” Civil Society Development NGO
  37. “Armenian Progressive Youth”
  38. “OxYGen” Foundation for Protection of Youth and Women Rights
  39. "For Equal Rights" Educational Center NGO
  40. “Public Oversight” NGO
  41. “Human Rights” Research Center
  42. “Media Initiatives Center”
  43. “Martuni Women’s Community Council”
  44. "BAYAZET" center
  45. “Civil Society Institute” NGO
  46. “Women's Rights House” NGO
  47. "Cinemart" Youth NGO
  48. Sofya Manukyan, human rights defender and environmentalist
  49. “Sexual Assault Crisis Center” NGO
  50. "Kreopia Creative Youth" NGO
  51. "Real World, Real People" NGO
  52. Tamara Gevorgyan, candidate of political sciences, management systems specialist
  53. “Success lady” Youth NGO
  54. Milena Baghdasaryan, candidate of Sociological Sciences, sociologist and anthropologist
  55. “Coalition to Stop Violence against Women”
  56. “Youth For Change” NGO
  57. Anahit Karapetyan, activist
  58. “Journalists for the Future”
  59. “Evolution of Vayots Dzor” NGO
  60. Open Society Foundations – Armenia

December 08, 2022 at 14:55