Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Meltex Ltd and Mesrop Movsesyan v. Armenia

Shortly after all the legal means were exhausted in Armenia in the efforts to keep A1+ TV station on air, the owner of the TV station filed a suit in the European Court of Human Rights in 2004. The suit claimed a violation of the Article 10 of the Human Rights Convention (PDF file):
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.

2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.
The case was known as Meltex Ltd and Mesrop Movsesyan v. Armenia (application no. 32283/04).

The court heard the case today and ruled in favor of A1+. The verdict was a 30,000 Euro fine (plus any applicable taxes) for the Armenian government. It is to be paid within 3 months and there are provisions for interest accruals if paid after 3 months. The case judgment with a lot of legalese is available here (or here) and the more human readable press release is available here.

So, what does this mean?

Legally, this means a lot as it re-affirms that it is possible for an Armenian entity to defend their rights if they are violated and win. It also shows (as you can see from the circumstances of the case) that the whole process of granting bandwidth to TV companies in 2001 through 2003 and the subsequent court verdicts in Armenia were in violation of Article 10 of the Human Rights Convention. Since the European Court of Human Rights has given a direction, the issues are now clear and can be fixed for the future. But there is a big "but" here as we are talking about a banditocracy here.

In practice, this means very little for the rights of the Armenian citizens. It simply means that the Armenian government can suppress free speech for one easy payment of 30,000 Euros.

But wait, there is more! The moneys paid out by the banditocracy are going to be the tax drams that have been extracted from the small and medium size businesses. They will still skim off the top of the budget for their own expenses. The ones to suffer will again be the most vulnerable such as the pensioners relying on $20 a month pension to stave off starvation.

Who thinks that the Armenian government will fix the problem rather than put a small amount aside to pay people after suppressing their free speech?

BTW, look at the number and type of the cases, and the defendants. Not a very glorious club to be a part of.

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