Criminal case reveals that Lydian Armenia mining company employees were spying and running fake profiles in social media
All around the world we witness mining companies targeting citizens for fighting for the protection of nature. Armenia is in no exception. For years paid media, specialists, as well as recent fake users and pages in social media carried out online discrediting campaigns, especially in Facebook. The case of journalist from Gndevaz – Tehmine Yenoqyan, is extraordinary as the criminal case showed that employees of Lydian Armenia (the company that wanted to exploit gold in Amulsar), were spying on the journalist.
I am Tehmine Yenoqyan, resident of Gndevaz village. For about 8 years I am raising the problems of gold mine project in Amulsar, as well as the rights of the locals. It is no secret that many concerned people, including me, have invested a lot of professional and civic efforts to raise the awareness of the population, to inform about the negative effects of mines, in order the people fought for their rights. All my activities were public.
Since June 22, 2018 the residents of Gndevaz and Jermuk have closed the roads leading to mountain Amulsar this way preventing the construction of the destructive Amulsar gold mine, thus protecting their rights through this direct action. I was at my home in Gndevaz in July-August 2018 and I was actively engaged in community activities for Amulsar’s protection. During that period, as well as before and after it, various representatives of civil, political, cultural spheres and individuals have arrived at Jermuk to show their solidarity with the locals and activists. Many of them contacted me for hosting them or helping them with other issues. I was also member of the working group that was formed under the decree of the Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, to study the problems caused by mining projects: the first study of this group was gold mine project in Amulsar. As a member of this working group I was also representing the community’s position on this matter, as well as I recorded and published the meetings. The working group had meetings during July-August-September, and I supported the working group as well as informed the members of that group from Jermuk and Gndevaz to ensure their participation in that group. For these activities my home in Gndevaz was open for hosting discussions since the community building in Gndevaz was not an option as a result of lack of trust towards the village mayor.
Persecution and illegal publication of personal information
In August 2018 a user in Facebook called “Vahagn Hovhannisyan” (this account no longer exists) who was supporting the mine project in Amulsar, started publishing secretly taken photos of my house, as well as people visiting me in my house with discrediting comments interfering with my personal life and space (this user spread slander and offensive comments about other persons as well). One of the photos was showing the car of the head of Environmental Protection and Mining Inspection Arthur Grigoryan parked in front of my house. The latter had come to Gndevaz and Jermuk on July 17 to ensure the participation of Jermuk community representatives in the working group. I agreed to provide my place for holding one of the meetings. The comments published with the secretly taken photographs completely distorted the reality and were discrediting me.
It turned out that my house was continuously targeted with some camera as this photo was not the only one that was published in social media and was discussed there. Thus in September I submitted a report of a crime with the RA Police General Department on Combating Organized Crime. Materials were prepared and a criminal case was launched under the article 144 of RA Criminal Code – illegal collection, storage, use or disclosure of information about personal or family life. It stems from this article that collection, storage, use or dissemination of personal information through public speech, public works or media without approval of that person, if not envisioned by law, is a crime. My demand was to reveal the individuals behind this crime and subject them to liability as prescribed by the law.
Criminal case and disclosure of fake accounts
The investigation lasted from September 2018 to March 2019, during which the Investigative Committee of Yeghegnadzor and Police Department of Jermuk interrogated neighbours living in front of my house and as a result received self-confession testimony from Anna Nersisyan (the inhabitant of the front house, employee of Lydian Armenia) who had photographed my house and illegally collected my personal information. The photographs were then transferred to Hovsep Asoyan through Hripsime Khachatryan. Hovsep Asoyan is also Lydian Armenia employee. I found out from the investigation that the employees of Lydian Armenia carried out organized persecution and illegally collected information about me. According to the testimony, Anna Nersisyan aimed at showing the link between me and Arthur Grigoryan and thus, according to her, the bias of Mr. Grigoryan in the case of Amulsar project. She sent my photographs through Viber application to Hripsime Khachatryan and then they reached Hovsep Asoyan. The latter confessed that he was behind the fake user page “Vahagn Hovhannisyan”, through which he published the photographs and comments. Starting from September when the case was launched, this user was no longer in Facebook.
I am suspicious whether it was Anna Nersisyan’s personal interest to show the so called “link between me and Arthur Grigoryan and the latter’s bias”, or she became a tool in the hands of Lydian Armenia. I must highlight that both as a civil servant, as well as in his previous role as the head of an environmental NGO refuting the licences given by the state to this mining company, Arthur Grigoryan had always pursued the public interest and had the official license to check the legality of mine project in Amulsar. During the time when the photographs were taken he ensured the participation of the community and coordinated this process.
The investigation revealed that employees of Lydian Armenia and most probably the company itself are behind a campaign in social media through users serving the interests of the company, often times fake users, which create false public opinion and therefore serve for the PR campaign of Lydian Armenia. For months the fake page of Vahagn Hovhannisyan published degrading information about environmentalists, residents of Jermuk and generally individuals concerned with this issue. There are other similar users and pages sadly continuing disseminating slander, while the official page, Facebook page and Youtube channel of Lydian Armenia share information of different quality.
RA Investigative Committee, however, has terminated the case on the grounds that I was engaged in public activity and that the law on Freedom of Information was applicable in regards with the publication of the photograph and thus the case is liable to termination as a result of absence of crime. I insist on the opposite and have appealed the decision to terminate the case with the RA General Prosecutor’s Office.
Similar persecutions by Lydian Armenia are continuous and have affected other citizens, while employees of the company have often provoked the locals, created hostility against environmentalists and protectors of Amulsar, incited conflicts between communities, terrorized and tried to create atmosphere of fear in Jermuk and Gndevaz. During these months locals and environmentalists have implemented the state’s regulatory functions i.e. protection of nature and their rights, for which they have been oftentimes targeted. Lydian Armenia has filed a lawsuit against geographer, member of Armenian Environmental Front Levon Galstyan, lawyer Nazeli Vardanyan, environmentalist, member of Armenian Environmental Front Ani Khachatryan, Hayk Grigoryan and myself, demanding one million AMD per case as a compensation for “expressions that have damaged their business reputation”. The company filed cases against residents of Jermuk and Gndevaz as well.
My case showed that employees of Lydian Armenia are themselves using the method of disseminating fake information, and therefore proper investigation should be carried out both in regards with my case, as well as against other users and pages that share discrediting information in social media. This is not only a matter for holding the company reliable for its actions, but also a global issue of protecting the public from discrediting activities of private companies.
Clarification by Tehmine Yenokyan regarding her statement
On March 23, 2019 I shared the statement “Facebook fake user is Lydian Armenia’s employee: Why Lydian’s employees are behind fake accounts”. On March 25, 2019, the Armenian Environmental Front shared it as well. Some other media also posted it on their websites.
I request to add the following clarification to the text:
Anna Nersisyan, mentioned in the statement, is the employee of Lydian Armenia’s contractor “Road Cars” CJSC, who worked at the mine project in Amulsar and according to the case materials, she was planning to start working at Lydian Armenia.
Hripsime Khachatryan, mentioned in the statement, as well as her mother, also worked in Amulsar mine project, in another contractor of Lydian Armenia.
Hovsep Asoyan mentioned in the statement was Lydian Armenia’s employee then. The criminal case investigation revealed that “without Tehmine Yenokyan’s consent Anna Nersisyan had illegally collected photographs about her personal life and contacts which she then shared with Hovsep Asoyan without Yenokyan’s consent through Viber application. Asoyan was Lydian Armenia’s employee back then, who in his turn published the photographs in Facebook social media through a fake account called “Vahagn Hovhannisyan”. On November 30, 2019 Hovsep Asoyan was charged, even though he didn’t plead guilty. He testified that he did receive the photographs, but he was not interested in them and so he erased them from his cell phone.
Preliminary investigation proved, however, that Anna Nersisyan’s action was illegal collection of personal information, while Hovsep Asoyan’s action was publication of personal information. The case was however terminated on the grounds that the published information referred to Tehmine Yenokyan’s public life and was not of a personal character. I have appealed this decision, it was proceeded.
Here is the decision in Armenian to terminate the case.