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.
This is the first time in Armenia that a journalist has been prosecuted for refusing to name a source.
The media reported last week that the charge was brought against Khanumian by the Special Investigation Service, which handles sensitive cases. She is facing up to two years in prison under article 353.2 of the criminal code.
In June 2014, a Yerevan court ordered Ilur.am and the newspaper Hraparak to reveal their sources for reports that a senior police officer had physically attacked two brothers, one of them a well-known wrestling champion.
Both Ilur.am and Hraparak refused on the grounds that the media have a professional obligation to protect their sources. They also described the order as an attempt to intimidate media critical of the authorities.
“This prosecution of Khanumian constitutes a dangerous precedent for media freedom in Armenia,” said Johann Bihr, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
“The confidentiality of sources is an essential condition for journalistic freedom. As such, it is protected both by Armenian law and European Court of Human Rights case law. We urge the Special Investigation Service to withdraw this charge immediately.”
Several Armenian media outlets have issued a joint statement condemning the prosecution. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s representative on freedom of the media, Dunja Mijatovic, has also voiced concern. “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.