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Armenia
24.05.19
Urgent Interventions

Ongoing judicial harassment and defamation campaign against environmental defenders by the mining company Lydian Armenia

URGENTAPPEAL - THE OBSERVATORY

ARM 001 / 0519 / OBS 045

Judicialharassment/

Smearcampaigns

Armenia
May 24, 2019


The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership ofFIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgentintervention in the following situation in Armenia.

Brief description of the situation:

TheObservatory has been informed by the Civil Society Institute (CSI) about theongoing judicial harassment and defamation campaign carried out against severalhuman rights defenders, journalists and lawyers includingMsses. Tehmine Yenoqyan, journalist, Ani Khachatryan, a member ofthe NGO Armenian Environmental Front, Nazeli Vardanyan, lawyer and thehead of Armenian Forests NGO, and Messrs. Levon Galstyan, head of theCouncil of Armenian Environmental Front, Shirak Buniatyan and EdmonAghabekyan. The attacks are linked to their activities raising publicawareness on the environmental and health risks connected to the operations ofthe gold mining closed joint-stock company Lydian Armenia in Amulsar, VayotsDzor region, around 170 km south of Yerevan (see background information). Complaints havebeen filed by the aforementioned defenders together with local communitiesimpacted to challenge the authorities’ decision to authorise the gold mining operations[1].

According to the information received, on November 16, 2018, LydianArmenia filed a civil law complaint before the Court of General Jurisdiction ofKotayk against Ani Khachatryan (Court case No. ԿԴ3/1445/02/18) for spreading ‘slandering information’ after she wasregularly posting information online concerning the situation of the Amuslarmine project. Lydian Armenia asked Ms. AniKhachatryan to pay one million Dram (approximately 1,870 Euros) in compensationfor undermining its business reputation. On December 6, 2018, the Ministryof Justice ordered Ms. Ani Khachatryan not to disseminate informationnegatively impacting Lydian Armenia’s reputation and ‘not reflecting thereality. Initially scheduled on May 22, 2019, the next hearing in Ms. AniKhachatryan’s case will take place in July 2019, after her lawyer asked formore time to prepare the case.

Lydian Armenia also filed other civil law complaints against other humanrights defenders for defamation. In December 2018, it filed a complaint againstMs. Nazeli Vardanyan, who is a lawyer and leader of the Armenian Forest NGO,for criticising the Amulsar project and accusing the company of having hiddenrelations with some authorities. The complaint will be examined by the Court ofGeneral Jurisdiction of Yerevan, but no date has been set yet.

On August 10, 2018, Lydian Armeniafiled a defamation complaint before the Yerevan Court of General Jurisdictionagainst Mr. Levon Galstyan for criticising its operations in public interviews,on Facebook statuses and on the Armenian Environmental Front’s webpage (CourtCase No. ԵԴ/16785/02/18). The trial is ongoing.

In March and April 2019, LydianArmenia also filed a defamation complaint against Messrs. Shirak Buniatyan(Court case No. ԱՎԴ2/0560/02/19) and Edmon Aghabekyan (Court case No.ԱՎԴ2/0551/02/19) for questioning the legitimacy of operations conducted byLydian Armenia in a Facebook post and at a public gathering. The company also asked them to pay one million Dram (approximately1,870 Euros) in compensation for undermining its business reputation.

In addition, since 2018, the samedefenders have also been regularly targeted by a smear campaign on socialmedia. Fake Facebook accounts have been publishing approximately 40 videomaterials discrediting Mr. Levon Galstyan. Offensive sexist posts have been published on Facebook against Msses.Ani Khachatryan and Tehmine Yenokyan, describing them as ‘loose women’, ‘madepregnant by activists’ and so on. In April 2019, Levon Galstyan, TehmineYenoqyan and Ani Khachatryan applied to the Yerevan Court of GeneralJurisdiction to seek remedy for insulting materials published on Facebookagainst them. On May 3, 2019, a video made up to discredit Ms. Nazeli Vardanyan’sprofessional skills as a lawyer of was circulated through a fake Facebook pagenamed ‘Green and Clean’, which was subsequently closed down by Facebook due toreports by users that the page was offensive and defamatory.

Furthermore, Ms. Tehmine Yenoqyan filed anothercomplaint to the police on September 6, 2018 in relation to video and photomaterials containing abusive comments, circulating on Facebook, and based onthe video surveillance of her house in Gndevaz village. The police opened acriminal investigation, which led to the identification of two individuals inrelation to the camera surveillance and the fake Facebook accounts, who areconnected by working relations with Lydian Armenia. The case was then closed bythe Vayots Dzor Regional Prosecutor’s office. Ms. Yenoqyan then requested theArarat and Vayots Dzor District Court of General Jurisdiction to consider thecase.

TheObservatory expresses its deepest concern over the judicial harassment andsmear campaigns against Msses. Tehmine Yenoqyan, Ani Khachatryan, NazeliVardanyan, Messrs. Levon Galstyan, Shirak Buniatyan and Edmon Aghabekyan andall environmental defenders, as they seem to be only aimed at punishing themfor their legitimate human rights activities. The Observatory calls upon theauthorities of Armenia to protect the rights of human rights defenders and tocarry-out an immediate, thorough, transparent investigation in order toidentify all those responsible for the violation of their rights, bring thembefore an independent tribunal, and apply them the sanctions provided by thelaw.

Background information:


Approximately 400 mines, of which 22 are metal, areexploited in Armenia. All mining sites are close to inhabited areas and waterresources, raising numerous issues in terms of health, water and food safetyand environment.

In2007, the mining company Lydian Armenia CJSC, subsidiary of Lydian International,started its operation of exploration and feasibility for a gold mine extractionproject in Armenia. In 2014 the company was granted a mining licence and in2016 it started the construction works for the extraction project in theAmulsar region.

Since 2012, experts and activistshave been denouncing the negative impact of mining operations in Amulsar onhealth and the environment and since 2017 some residents blocked the access tothe mine and asked the suspension of the project In response, Lydian Armenia started avigorous campaign to silence all critics, including human rights defenders.

In November 2018, approximately 3,000 citizens fromthe Jermuk enlarged community, in which Amulsar is situated, signed a petitionto stop the project, and on December 18, 2018, the Council of Jermuk Communitytook the decision to develop Jermuk Community as an environment friendlyeconomy and prohibit metal mining on its territory. Since August 2018 theproject is suspended pending a new environmental impact assessment that hasbeen commissioned by the government.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities in Armenia, urging them to:

i. Put an endto all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Msses.Tehmine Yenoqyan, Ani Khachatryan, Nazeli Vardanyan, Messrs. Levon Galstyan,Shirak Buniatyan, Edmon Aghabekyan, as well as of all human rights defenders inArmenia and ensure that they are able to carry out theiractivities without hindrance;

ii. Carry-out an immediate,thorough, transparent investigation into the above-mentioned defamation acts inorder to identify all those responsible, bring them before an independent tribunal,and apply them the sanctions provided by the law;

iii. Conform in all circumstances to the provisions of theDeclaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by theUnited Nations General Assembly, in particular its Articles 1 and 12.2.;

iv. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rightsand fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rightsinstruments ratified by Armenia.

Addresses:

· Mr. Armen Sarkissian,President of the Republic of Armenia, Email :press@president.am ;

· Mr. Nikol Pashinyan,Prime Minister, Email : nikol.pashinyan@gov.am ;

· Mr. Artak Zeynalyan,Minister of Justice, Email : info@moj.am ;

· Mr. Valeriy Osipyan,Chief of Police, Email : press@police.am ;

· Mr. Artur Davtyan,Prosecutor General, Email : info@prosecutor.am.


Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Armenia in yourrespective country as well as to the EU diplomatic missions or embassies inArmenia.

***

Paris-Geneva, May 24, 2019

Kindly inform us of any action undertakenquoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of HumanRights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the WorldOrganisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is tointervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rightsdefenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights DefendersMechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergencyline:

· E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org

· Tel and fax FIDH + 33 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 4355 18 80

· Tel and fax OMCT + 41 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29

[1] Court case No. ՎԴ/1049/05/15 followinga complaint filed by 11 residents from Gndevaz against the Ministry of theEnvironment and the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources: hearings havebeen ongoing for four years.

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