Legal appraisal of the CC ruling. closed-door auction and sale of community lands was declared unconstitutional
On January 30, 2018 the Constitutional Court granted the claim of the Investigative Journalists; the CC ruling declares unconstitutional the provision of Article 68(6) of the Land Code stating that the auction and sale of community lands must be closed-door.

On February 6, the Media Center hosted a relevant discussion attended by Artak Zeynalyan, NA Yelk faction deputy, investigative journalist Sara Petrosyan and attorney Ara Ghazaryan.

Sara Petrosyan stated that the first publications about auctions and sales dated back to 2014 as they sought during their work in communities to attend some auctions, identified corruption risks there and faced numerous obstacles.

"The first obstacle was that we were strictly forbidden to attend auctions in the communities; they showed us Article 68(6) of the Land Code and said that it was banned by law and they could do nothing about it. As we started a monitoring study, we revealed that some communities permitted us to attend such auctions and posed no obstacle. Years of studies clearly showed one thing: regardless of whether public or closed, auctions had a big corruption issue as they were very artificial; that is, there were on auctions in place. Instead, there were arrangements with the head of community; the seller of community property and the buyer agreed to some amount; some second application was entered in an artificial manner, there was no bargaining and the estate was sold at prices even much lower than the cadastral value of lands. In other words, the community estate vanished and did not serve to the community. There was a very long chain of corruption starting with cooperation among the head of community, region governor and cadastre," Sara Petrosyan said.

Along with the publications, our studies were also submitted to the Anti-Corruption Board of the RA Government and put on the agenda of the session. "I reported three times, there were detailed discussions on the issue and I guessed that everyone understood and perceived what I was talking about. But, regretfully, such discussions did not result in practical settlement of the issue.

The interests of Investigative Journalists NGO in the Constitutional Court were presented by lawyer Ara Ghazaryan and human rights activist and currently NA deputy Artak Zeynalyan who went from court to court with this issue for 4 years.

"We entered into a dispute with the National Assembly, the judiciary, executive power and local government bodies. We entered into a dispute with such a powerful army and we won," Zeynalyan added. “We believed that a person, a journalist and an investigative journalist should have the opportunity to attend auctions in person, observe and cover them and provide the information they perceived. The whole system, i.e. the legislative, the judiciary and the executive, found that such persons might not attend auctions and it was only them in their narrow circles who might attend auctions and do whatever they wanted to do."

Commenting on the Constitutional Court’s ruling, Ara Ghazaryan clarified that it referred mostly to freedom of speech and information rather than to the issue of auctions.

The matter is that as we have stated, the community, wants and is entitled to know who and how purchases their lands. The emphasis mostly falls on "how" as corruption is mostly hidden in that "how". And those willing to sell the community lands at very low prices through corruption, first of all cut off the path to freedom of speech and prevent any journalist or community member from attending the process so that they cannot see the violations committed when selling such lands”, Ghazaryan said.

And Artak Zeynalyan added that the amendments to the law took effect at the very moment of their announcement. "The Constitutional Court’s ruling is superior to law; it took effect upon its announcement and is binding for everybody.”

Lilit Arakelyan, Media Center Project Editor/Coordinator

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