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Armenia -- Constitutional Court in Yerevan, 12Oct2021

Statement

On October 5, 2021 the RA Constitutional Court made a decision, according to which the Law “On Amendments to the RA Civil Code” adopted by the parliament on March 24, 2021 was recognized in line with the Constitution. Thus, the upper threshold of damages award envisaged for insult will increase from previous 1 million to 3 million drams, and in case of defamation, it will become 6 million drams instead of 2 million.

Let us recall that the law was authored by the current NA Speaker Alen Simonyan when he was still the NA Deputy Speaker. During its circulation as a draft, it was rightly criticized not only by the undersigned organizations, but also by the wider journalistic community and international organizations (Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders, etc.). In particular, we have made a number of statements on the matter, and in the last one issued on the day the law was adopted, we urged the RA President not to sign the law and to forward it to the Constitutional Court to verify its compliance with the Constitution. And so he did.

However, the decision of the Constitutional Court causes not only disappointment and bewilderment, but also resentment. It does not take into consideration the recommendations of the Council of Europe and the requirements of a number of precedent decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. Moreover, this document adopted by the Constitutional Court clearly contradicts several provisions and the general spirit of the November 15, 2011 Decision No. 997 of the same court. Thus, 10 years ago, claiming that the financial situation of the media should be taken into account when awarding compensation for insult and slander in publications so that the liability does not lead to their bankruptcy, today the very court (although in a different composition), in fact, approves a law that stipulates a threefold increase in the upper threshold of damages award for insult and defamation. It is clear that this could become a signal for the courts to confiscate more money in such cases than is common practice today.

We, the undersigned organizations, reaffirm that we absolutely do not aim to defend offenders and slanderers, however, we insist that the use of disproportionately strict approaches is more likely to do harm to freedom of speech than to serve the fight against flaws. Especially as we consider that politicians, officials and representatives of various segments of the society often perceive criticism against themselves as defamation or insult and go to court. This may create serious obstacles to the free operation of media, encourage and increase the flow of lawsuits against journalists and media.

The adoption of this law is particularly alarming in the context of the disproportionate tightening of media regulations and the new restrictions applied. The criminalization of the so-called “grave insults” and the increased protection of public and state actors, as well as several other groups through that measure, as well as the initiatives on a ban on citing unidentifiable information sources, not publishing data on officials’ business trips and related expenses, purchases from a single vendor, etc. are part of that regressive process.

Recognizing that the entire state system was in fact unable to protect the media from unfounded and disproportionate restrictions and legal pressures, we demand:

– the National Assembly to review the entire legislative framework related to the activities of the media, to repeal the recently adopted laws contradicting the international norms and to refuse the adoption of similar bills in circulation, and after that to initiate open professional discussions to develop a concept of legal regulations in the media field;

– the RA President, the Constitutional Court, all political forces to contribute to the process of creating an enabling legal framework for the activities of the media and to actively oppose regressive legislative initiatives;

– the international organizations to discuss the issue of the adoption of media related laws by the RA Parliament in neglect of the international norms in that process, as well as to take measures to rectify the situation.

COMMITTEE TO PROTECT FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
YEREVAN PRESS CLUB
MEDIA INITIATIVES CENTER
JOURNALISTS’ CLUB “ASPAREZ”
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION CENTER
MEDIA DIVERSITY INSTITUTE-ARMENIA
PUBLIC JOURNALISM CLUB
“JOURNALISTS FOR THE FUTURE” NGO
“JOURNALISTS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS” NGO
GORIS PRESS CLUB
“FEMIDA” NGO

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Armenian Parliament Building

Statement

We, the undersigned journalistic organisations, hereby express our deep concern about and disappointment with the unacceptable situation and processes taking place at the National Assembly in the recent two days, including the facts of unlawful obstructions or discontinuance of the activities of journalists and cameramen covering them.

On 24 August, when heated polemic between the members of the NA developed into a brawl, the security officers forcibly removed the representatives of the media from the box foreseen for the press, thereby preventing them from continuing filming the incidents. The work of journalists and cameramen was obstructed also at the entrance to the plenary session hall. The said obstacles included threats by security officers directed at Hayk Tonoyan, cameraman of the online website www.news.am of depriving him of his NA accreditation if he continued shooting the incident, then the footages were allegedly deleted.

The same situation was repeated on 25 August. To prevent the parliamentary brawls from being filmed, the media representatives were again removed from the box, including by using violence. Their professional activities were again obstructed at the entrance to the plenary session hall.

We insist that these acts in respect of the journalists and cameramen accredited with the National Assembly violate the law and are directed against freedom of speech and the right of the public to receive information.  They are also contrary to the substance and essence of the discussions held during the 23 August meeting between the leaders of the three journalistic organisations – Committee to Protect Freedom of Exspression, Center for Media Initiatives and Journalists’ Club Asparez – and the NA Speaker Alen Simonyan.

It goes without saying that all RA citizens have a right to be informed of the manner of work and conduct of each and every MP. Moreover, any information in respect of the parliament, which does not contain state or other secrets, must become public property. This can happen first and foremost through uninhibited journalistic work.

In the light of the aforesaid, we demand that:

  • The NA leadership discontinues without a delay the practice of violence, pressure and unlawful restrictions in respect of the journalists and cameramen accredited with the parliament, regardless of the events they cover whilst performing their professional duties;
  • The Speaker of the NA participates by all means in the discussion foreseen on 30 August by the Standing Committee on Human Rights Protection and Public Affairs, which will be dedicated to the above problems and to maximally meet the reasonable expectations of journalists;
  • The officers of the security service stop exceeding their powers by applying ungrounded restrictions on journalists and cameramen working in the parliament and putting forward ungrounded demands, as well as stop obstructing their professional activity.

COMMITTEE TO PROTECT FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
YEREVAN PRESS CLUB
MEDIA INITIATIVES
 CENTER
JOURNALISTS’ CLUB ‘ASPAREZ’
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION CENTER
MEDIA DIVERSITY INSTITUTE – ARMENIA
PUBLIC JOURNALISM CLUB
JOURNALISTS FOR FUTURE
JOURNALISTS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
GORIS PRESS CLUB
‘FEMIDA’ NGO

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Armenian Parliament Building

Statement on Restrictions for Movement of Media Representatives in Parliament

STATEMENT

3 August, 2021, Yerevan

The opening session of the National Assembly of the 8th convocation convened on 2 August was accompanied with strict restrictions to the movement of media representatives in the parliament. Journalists and cameramen were not allowed into the new parliamentary building where sessions of the standing commissions are convened, nor enter the area accommodating the rooms of he representatives of the parliamentary majority, nor even use certain lobbies where they used to take interviews and comments from MPs. 

As early as the last two weeks there were rumours about imposition of such restrictions. However, concerns to this effect were appeased when in answer to the inquiry made by Taguhi Tovmasyan, MP from the ‘I have honour’ faction the secretary general-chief of the NA staff informed her that there was no decision on restricting journalists’ movement. Nevertheless, on the very next working day the media representatives had to face the opposite situation.

We, the undersigned media organisations, note that the above restrictions were imposed in the parliament without any prior discussions and informing the media in advance of the changes in their working conditions. And what is even more important: no normative legal act has been adopted as the legal basis for such actions and only on the same day, 2 August, when these restrictions became effective, the decision of the NA Speaker on this was published.

We condemn such arbitrariness and insist that these steps, rather than regulating the free activities of the media in the parliament, are aimed at creating unnecessary obstacles in obstruction of professional journalistic activity. These steps are directed at shielding parliamentarians from unwanted questions and the criticism of the press and can clearly undermine the transparency and accountability of the NA work.  

We are aware and have time and again voiced our concerns about the unpleasant incidents in the NA when both MPs and journalists have transcended the boundaries of civilised relations and created meaningless conflicts. However, this problem must be resolved on the basis of legality, good reason, mutual understanding and trust in order tp enhance the effectiveness of both MPs’ and journalists’ work.  

In view of the aforesaid, we demand that the leadership of the NA:

  • Annul without a delay the restrictions imposed on media representatives on 2 August;
  • Suspend the effect of paragraph 5 of the Decision of the NA Speaker amending Annex 1 to the decision of the NA Speaker NO-01-L dated 12 February 2019 relating to these restrictions;
  • Initiate broad discussion with the participation of the journalists accredited in the NA, their managers, media non-governmental organisations, international experts with a view to effectively and finally resolving the existing problems.

COMMITTEE TO PROTECT FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
YEREVAN PRESS CLUB
MEDIA INITIATIVES
 CENTER
JOURNALISTS’ CLUB ‘ASPAREZ’
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION CENTER
MEDIA DIVERSITY INSTITUTE – ARMENIA
PUBLIC JOURNALISM CLUB
JOURNALISTS FOR FUTURE
JOURNALISTS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
GORIS PRESS CLUB
‘FEMIDA’ NGO

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Digital security training

On July 19 – 20, 2021 Media Diversity Institute carried out a digital security training for civil society organizations. The training was led by digital security consultants Samvel Martirosyan and Vartan Arzumanyan.

A range of civil society organizations, including “Law Development Center”, “Women in Armenia Foundation”, “Women’s Resource Center”, “Eurasia Partnership” Foundation, “Armenian Progressive Youth”, Public Journalism Club, “Advocacy Without Borders” and others took part in the training.

This capacity building event was implemented under the  “EU4LabourRights: Increasing Civic Voice and Action for Labour Rights and Social Protection in Armenia” project, which is implemented by OxYGen Foundation, Socioscope NGO, “Asparez” Journalists’ Club NGO, Armenian Progressive Youth NGO, Media Diversity Institute – Armenia in cooperation with Protection of Rights without Borders NGO, and Eurasia Partnership Foundation. The Project is funded by the European Union.

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STATEMENT

Drafts amending the decision No 1230-N of the RA Prime Minister dated 19 September, 2018, the decision no 1104-N of the RA Government dated 30 August 2012, and the decision No 982-N of the RA Government dated 22 September 2016 have recently been posted on the website e-draft.am. The first of them foresees non-disclosure on the website e-gov.am of any information on the objectives of the official trips, discussed topics, meetings, speeches of and decisions adopted by public officials. The second foresees non-disclosure of information in relation to procurement from one person, the register of hazardous industrial objects, the data of companies entitled to exploit land resources with a view to extracting useful fossils and conducting archeological expeditions. In addition to this, it is suggested to remove from the website gov.travel.am information on the airline carriers, flights, their cost, registration codes, and numbers of passengers.

These documents were developed by the RA Ministry of High Technologies in cooperation with the RA National Security Service.

We are extremely concerned about the fact that the political force having come to power on the wave of the 2018 revolution, which also won the June 20 snap parliamentary elections, is tabling restrictions in the area of freedom of information unnecesary in a democratic society. The overwhelming majority of the documents posted for discussion contradict Article 51 of the RA Constitution, the RA Law on Freedom of Information and Armenia’s OGP international obligations.

The fact that these authorities have failed to adopt transparent working procedures is also proven by lack of willingness to amend the provisions of the Law on Procurement, according to which the expenditures of the first 3 figures in the State (the RA Prime Minister, the President and the President of the NA) were classified as state secrets by the previous authorities.  The next move giving rise to concern was the approval by the Government of the draft law on restricting environmental information in April 2020. The package of draft discussed currently is the logical continuation of this wrong approach.

Taking note of the statement disseminated by the Ministry for High Technologies today, we, nevertheless, stress that it does not alleviate our doubts that the authorities owing to their subjective perceptions and narrow political interests will obstruct the further flow of information of public interest.

Considering that restrictions on such information create corruption risks, contradict the RA legislation and international norms on transparent and accountable governance, we, the undersigned organisations demand that the RA Government:

  • Annuls the above drafts,
  • Holds comprehensive discussions with the relevant state organisations, professional non-governmental organisations, independent experts and the representatives of international organisations with a view to finding solutions to freedom of information problems.

COMMITTEE TO PROTECT FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
YEREVAN PRESS CLUB
MEDIA INITIATIVES CENTER
JOURNALISTS’ CLUB ‘ASPAREZ’
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION CENTER
MEDIA DIVERSITY INSTITUTE – ARMENIA
PUBLIC JOURNALISM CLUB
JOURNALISTS FOR FUTURE
JOURNALISTS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
GORIS PRESS CLUB
FEMIDA NGO

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STATEMENT

The Special Investigative Service decided to reject the institution of criminal proceedings on the facts of obstructing the professional activities of Anush Dashtents, correspondent of Hraparak Daily, seizing the latter’s mobile phone, breaking its password and deleting the videomaterial allegedly committed by MP Hayk Sargsyan.

We, the undersigned organisations, referred to the above incident in our joint
statement of June 4.

Incidentally, in his decision senior investigator Khoren Mezhloumyan referred to the above facts for which criminal liability is foreseen by the Criminal Code. Nevertheless, he came to the conclusion that the elements of crime are missing, since ‘it is necessary that the offender consciously obstructs lawful professional journalistic activity or compels spreading the information or refusing to spread information.’

This justification is surprising at its best, since it is difficult to assume that the MP was not conscious that he was seizing the journalist’s mobile phone and, likewise, unconsciously deleted its undesirable content. We insist that this incident is a clear case of obstructing professional journalistic activity. However, even if the investigator failed to give adequate classification to the crime, unlawful seizure of the journalist’s property, infringement on her privacy and obstructing her from disseminating information are sufficient grounds for holding Hayk Sargsyan liable.

Comparing this decision of the SIS with the campaign promise of the acting RA Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan that following his victory there would be dictatorship of law in the country, we have to note that this dictatorship must unequivocally apply to everyone, regardless of whether the offender is a representative of the ruling party, opposition or an apolitical person.
With this clear expression of our condemnation of this conclusion by the SIS, we demand that:

  • The RA Prosecutor’s Office applies its supervisory powers to quash the decision of the SIS, institute criminal proceedings and remit the case for investigation;
  • The Civil Contract Party discusses Hayk Sargsyan’s conduct with journalists and publicly condemns this and all the previous incidents involving him;
  • The newly elected National Assembly urgently resolves the issue of a permanent ethics commission, as well as regulates the relations between MPs and journalists, excluding any mutual disrespect and intolerance.

COMMITTEE TO PROTECT FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
YEREVAN PRESS CLUB
MEDIA INITIATIVES CENTER
JOURNALISTS’ CLUB ‘ASPAREZ’
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION CENTER
MEDIA DIVERSITY INSTITUTE – ARMENIA
PUBLIC JOURNALISM CLUB
JOURNALISTS FOR FUTURE
JOURNALISTS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
GORIS PRESS CLUB
FEMIDA NGO

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Armenia -- President Armen Sargsyan votes in Parliamentary elections, 20Jun2021

4 incidents of obstruction of the lawful professional activity of the mass media workers occurred during the parliamentary elections on 20 June.

4 incidents of obstruction of the lawful professional activity of the mass media workers occurred during the parliamentary elections on 20 June.

In particular, David Machkalyan and Henrik Sargsyan, the cameramen from the Public Television and “168.am” were prohibited from shooting in the polling station no 29/45 on the pretext that they had to present their passports alongside the CEC accreditation certificates. This requirement contradicted paragraphs 4 and 5 of Article 32 of the Electoral Code, and the Committee to Protect Freedom of Speech managed to settle the dispute invoking this article. The work of Grigor Gevorgyan, journalist from “ParaTV” was obstructed without due reason in the yard of the polling station no 34/03 in Goris: he was not allowed to shoot the ballots in the box. A proxy from the party “Civil Pact” shot the actions of Anush Mirzoyan, journalist from “Zangezour TV” with a phone and obstructed her work. Proxies from “Hayastan” Alliance treated Diana Davtyan, journalist from the website “FreeNews.am” in an insulting and aggressive manner and obstructed her free activity.

The campaign preceding the elections was also accompanied with violations of the rights of journalists and the media: 2 incidents of violence and 5 other incidents of pressure were registered in the period of 7-18 June.

To compare, 3 incidents of obstruction of the media activities were registered during the 2018 parliamentary elections, 5 incidents of violence and 14 other incidents of pressure during the 2017 parliamentary elections, and 3 incidents of violence and 4 other incidents of pressure during the 2012 parliamentary elections.

In view of the fact that any infringement on the rights of the media representatives is a threat to freedom of speech and the right of the public to be informed, we demand that the law enforcement authorities conduct a thorough investigation into the above incidents that occurred on 20 June and come up with a legal assessment thereof.

We, the undersigned organisations, will continue to monitor the developments in the country and call on the authorities, the opposition political forces and their supporters, as well as media workers to manifest reserve, tolerance and respect for one another in the post-electoral period, not to resort to hate speech, hostility and swearing.

COMMITTEE TO PROTECT FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
YEREVAN PRESS CLUB
MEDIA INITIATIVES CENTER
JOURNALISTS’ CLUB “ASPAREZ”
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION CENTER
MEDIA DIVERSITY INSTITUTE – ARMENIA
PUBLIC JOURNALISM CLUB
JOURNALISTS FOR FUTURE
JOURNALISTS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
GORIS PRESS CLUB
FEMIDA NGO

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“EU4LabourRights: Increasing Civic Voice and Action for Labour Rights and Social Protection in Armenia”

“EU4LabourRights: Increasing Civic Voice and Action for Labour Rights and Social Protection in Armenia”

On June 11 2021, an event took place in Yerevan officially launching three new EU-supported projects on enhancing labour rights protection in Armenia.

Three consortia, bringing 14 civil society organisations, employers’ and trade unions as well as media structures from Yerevan and marzes into close collaboration, are implementing the projects.

The new projects are the following:

“Labour Action: Collaborative Effort for Accountable and Inclusive Employment’’ project is implemented by Union of Employers of ICT, Armavir Development Center and Kiraki Development Foundation. The Project aims at enhancing capacity of public administration and civil society organisations to strengthen and expand protection of labor rights and building strategic institutional capacity within the Government towards social protection and labor reforms.

“Decent work now!” project is implemented by Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly – Vanadzor, Transparency International Anti-Corruption Center, Advanced Public Research Group, Factor Information Center NGO in cooperation with Education and Solidarity Union.  The Project aims to enhance the individual, collective, and state mechanisms of labour and social rights protection and their application in Armenia through empowerment of employees and labour unions and advocacy for legislative framework reform.

“EU4LabourRights: Increasing Civic Voice and Action for Labour Rights and Social Protection in Armenia” project is implemented by OxYGen Foundation, Socioscope NGO, “Asparez” Journalists’ Club NGO, Armenian Progressive Youth NGO, Media Diversity Institute – Armenia in cooperation with Protection of Rights without Borders NGO, and Eurasia Partnership Foundation. The Project will facilitate a multi-stakeholder policy Platform – CVA which will lead national consultations on the development and implementation of relevant public policies aimed at addressing the discrimination and violation of labour rights, with the involvement of grassroots organisations and activists’ nonformal groups.

The projects initiated activities at the beginning of 2021 and aim to improve labour and social rights protection in Armenia through innovative, IT solutions in labour rights control, public awareness raising on labour rights especially among youth, women, and people with disabilities. Also, they intend to promote a more continuous participatory dialogue among key stakeholders..

Ruben Sargsyan, MLSA Deputy Minister, Hakob Avagyan, Head of the Healthcare and Labour Inspectorate, and Gonzalo Serrano De La Rosa, Head of the Co-operation Section, European Union Delegation to Armenia participated in the event.

“I am impressed when looking to the agenda of the event and seeing so many logos. I think this is a great added value also from the EU side that we can provide, bringing together many partners, different specialisations, different views, opinions, so we are getting together to ensure important, positive tangible change and not only in the labour rights” – Mr. Serrano said.

In his speech, Mr. Sargsyan signified the EU support to protection of labour rights and the improvement of the socio-economic situation in Armenia. He put a special highlight to application of IT system in the Healthcare and Labor Inspectorate for the protection of labour rights. He also emphasized the importance of awareness raising campaigns especially among vulnerable groups of society.

Mr. Avagyan mentioned that the Health Care and Labour Inspectorate have already started cooperation with the project partners, highlighting especially the importance of the upgrading of the inspectorate body, particularly, the digitalization of the labor rights protection mechanism through an online platform.

During the meeting, a MOU between the Healthcare and Labour Inspectorate and the Project Partners thus announcing and laying a ground for continuous cooperation on the labour rights protection in Armenia.

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Աջակցություն պատերազմում տուժած լրագրողներին

Support to the Journalists Injured during the War

Within the framework of the “Rapid Response Fund Initiative program, the Public Journalism Club is announcing about an opportunity to provide financial assistance to media workers injured during the war.

Due to the limited financial resources, the media workers who suffered during the second Nagorno Karabakh  war and obtained health problems will be selected.

If you have covered the 44-day war and your health has been damaged, please fill out this form. Deadline for applications is June 30, 2021.

The main goals of the “Rapid Response Fund Initiative” program supported by EED (European Endowment for Democracy) are to provide fast and flexible support to journalists and media workers, to provide them with medical and psychological assistance, to develop professional skills in international humanitarian law, first aid, digital and personal data security, and to raise awareness of psychological protection among journalists and the public.

The program is implemented by the Public Journalism Club NGO. Within the framework of the project, a coordinating consortium was formed, which includes the Media Initiative Centerthe Yerevan Press Clubthe Freedom of Information Centerthe Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, and the Comprehensive Information Institute. The consortium will develop the long-term vision, mission, and strategy of the initiative.

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une 4 statement Hayk Sargsyan Anush Dashtents

Statement

On 3 June, Hayk Sargsyan, an MP from the My Step faction was involved in yet another incident of indecent conduct in respect of a journalist. Anush Dashtents, correspondent with the daily newspaper Hrapatak, informed the media that having noticed this particular representative of the ruling political force at the headquarters of the Civil Contract party, she approached him in an attempt to ask a question. In response, the MP seized her phone and departed in his car with the words that he would not return the phone ‘until she brings herself to order.’ Anush Dashtents informed the witnesses of the incident that she was going to apply to the police.  However, their response was that they had not seen anything and that she would not be able to prove her claims. Later, when the journalist applied to someone close to the MP, her phone was returned. However, it password had been broken and the footage had been deleted. Hayk Sargsyan in his turn informed the media that he had asked Ms Dashtents not to film him and his friends, and this was the reason why he resorted to such behavior. Incidentally, following a call from her, the police invited the journalist to the police station to make a report of the incident.

We, the undersigned journalistic organisations, hereby condemn the incident. We note that months ago the same Hayk Sargsyan from the ruling party manifested yet another incident of intolerance and lack of civility in respect of a journalist, which was the subject of yet another  statement of ours. This time his acts of obstructing the journalist’s work and seizure of her property prima facie contain elements of a crime. In addition to this, breaking the password of Anush Dashtents’ phone and using it for other purposes is nothing but an unlawful interference with the privacy of the journalist.

We hereby reiterate our findings made in the previous statements to the effect that such impermissible incidents are especially dangerous to societal stability at this time of very tense electoral campaign given that any frivolous behavior on the part of politicians may entail further inflammation of passions.

In view of the aforesaid we demand from:

  • The NA leadership, My Step faction and Civil Contract party to examine Hayk Sargsyan’s behavior, to express a clear position on the incident, to take steps to prevent the occurrence of such incidents in the future and to inform the public of the steps taken;
  • The RA Police to carry out an impartial investigation into the incident and come up with an unbiased assessment of Hayk Sargsyan’s actions.

COMMITTEE TO PROTECT FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
YEREVAN PRESS CLUB
MEDIA INITIATIVES CENTER
JOURNALISTS’ CLUB ‘ASPAREZ’
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION CENTER
MEDIA DIVERSITY INSTITUTE – ARMENIA
PUBLIC JOURNALISM CLUB
JOURNALISTS FOR FUTURE
JOURNALISTS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
GORIS PRESS CLUB
FEMIDA

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