On 24 March, 2021, the National Assembly adopted in the second reading and completely the legislative draft amending the RA Civil Code authored by Mr Alen Simonyan, Deputy Speaker of the NA, raising the damages awards for insult and defamation to 3 mln and 6 mln AMD, respectively.
This amendment is extremely dangerous, especially if we take into account the propensity of the representatives of the state authorities, politicians and other public figures to perceive even objective criticism as insult and defamation and apply to the court. If we add to this the total lack of independence of the judiciary, judgments following such complaints may become fatal for the further activities of the media.
This essentially means that contrary to the calls and pleadings of the media organisations and the expert community, the legislature approved of a repressive initiative related to the field of the media, which is not backed by any profound professional research and analysis, and is solely conditioned by narrow political interests.
The initial version of the draft, which was adopted in the first reading, foresaw multiplying the upper thresholds of damages awards for insult and defamation by five. Later, in the course of the deliberations in the NA it was decided to multiply them by three. This, however, cannot be deemed as a compromise in the solution of the problem as these amounts are not comparable with the financial-economic situation of the country and the finances of the media.
Without any intention whatsoever to defend those that commit defamation and insult, we, the undersigned media organisations, reaffirm that these amendments will cause a significant damage to freedom of expression and restrict the medias’ ability to criticise objectively. Apart from this, it may become a trigger for the courts to adopt more severe judgments against the media.
It is obvious that this legislative intitiative undermines the balance between the right to freedom of expression foreseen by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the right to privacy foreseen by Article 8 of the same Convention. This amendment also neglects an important provision from the Decision No 997 of the Constitutional Court dated 15 November 2011, according to which while determining a damages award for insult and defamation found in publications, note should be taken of the medias’ finances to avoid a situation whereby liability leads to bankruptsy.
In view of the aforesaid, we call on the:
- RA President not to sign the Law on Amendments to the RA Civil Code and refer it to the RA Constitutional Court to verify whether it conforms to the RA Constitution and the precedent set by the Decision No 997 dated 15 November 2011 of the same Court.
- International organisations to publicly deplore the legislative amendments raising the damages awards for defamation and insult and to call on the authorities to review this initiative endangering freedom of speech in Armenia.
COMMITTEE TO PROTECT FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
YEREVAN PRESS CLUB
CENTER FOR MEDIA INITIATIVES
JOURNALISTS’ CLUB “ASPAREZ”
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION CENTER
MEDIA DIVERSITY INSTITUTE-ARMENIA
PUBLIC JOURNALISM CLUB
JOURNALISTS FOR FUTURE
JOURNALISTS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
GORIS PRESS CLUB