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Armenia -- Journalist Tatul Hakobyan, Yerevan,

Statement on the reprisal and death threats against journalist Tatul Hakobyan

On December 8, 2021 journalist Tatul Hakobyan, while on a business trip in the United States, reported to have received reprisal and even death threats. In journalist’s opinion, the campaign is directed from Armenia and some Armenian circles in the United States, and the reason for these threats is his one recent thought expressed publicly, namely “Armenia is where the Armenian soldier stands.”

The journalist drew the particular attention of law enforcement agencies, journalistic organizations, the RA Human Rights Defender, the US Embassy in Armenia to the fact. He promised to provide names and facts about the campaign against him upon his return to Armenia. At the moment the journalist is under the US police protection.

What happened is yet another proof that the culture of civilized debate has not been shaped both within the political circles and the Armenian society, and the extremely sharp intolerance towards dissent tends to deepen following the 44-day Artsakh war.

Whether one likes Tatul Hakobyan’s thoughts and analyses or not, he is one of the best representatives of Armenian journalism, who has studied the Artsakh issue in depth and has courageously covered it, including from the frontlines of hostilities. As a journalist, analyst and citizen, he has the right to freely express his opinion, and threats and calls for killing for that against him or any person in general are criminal acts.

We, the undersigned organizations, strongly condemn the unacceptable campaign against Tatul Hakobyan and express our support to our colleague.

With regards to the incident, we demand: ․

  • the RA Prosecutor’s Office to take immediate measures to identify and bring to justice the perpetrators of the threats campaign and their instructors, especially since the journalist is ready to provide specific names;
  • the RA Police to ensure Tatul Hakobyan’s security upon his return to

We call on the journalistic community to show solidarity and support to Tatul Hakobyan to resist the condemnable actions against him.

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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Fingers Touching Digital Globe

Internet Freedom in Armenia in 2021

The level of Internet freedom in Armenia in 2020-2021 was seriously affected by three factors. The first is the constant and tough political confrontation between the current government under the leadership of Nikol Pashinyan, who ascended to power as a result of the 2018 revolution, and various political forces directly or indirectly associated with the ruling elites of past years. The second is the processes closely related to COVID-19. And the third factor is the second Karabakh war, whose active phase was in September-November 2020, while the conflict continues to smolder to this day, having an impact on the Internet environment as well.

Hacker attacks

Hacker attacks against Armenian Internet resources are a permanent phenomenon. Due to the ongoing tensions around Karabakh, for more than two decades Armenian and Azerbaijani hackers have been constantly competing in hacking the websites of the opposite side. Attacks on websites are routine and basically almost regular, with increased waves of attacks on special calendar days. Between March and November 2021, only the Azerbaijani hacker group Azerbaijan Cyber ​​Army reported around 70 hacked Armenian sites[i].

Hacker attacks also tend to intensify during escalations on the line of contact between the Armenian and Azerbaijani troops. During such an escalation of the situation on the line of contact in the south of Armenia, for example, massive attacks on news websites also began. Armtimes.com, previously edited by the incumbent Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan, announced to have been hacked on November 16, at the moment of the start of active hostilities on the border[ii]. Added to that, cybersecurity experts started reporting serious DDoS attacks on news sites, which also began immediately after the border escalation[iii].

State-sponsored hacking groups

Armenian journalists, activists, public and government organizations are increasingly being targeted by state-sponsored hacking groups. As noted above, Azerbaijani hacker groups constantly attack Armenian targets. In the case of Azerbaijan, it is even difficult to distinguish between patriotic groups and those that are directly under state control or are groups immediately in the civil service.

However, within the last few years there has been an increase in extremely complex, comprehensive attacks on Armenian targets, which are carried out by various hacker groups, most likely associated with other states.

Thus, on July 14, 2021, Google’s Threat Analysis Group announced that they had discovered three zero-day vulnerabilities that were used to attack browser users[iv]. Targeted attacks were carried out on users in Armenia. The attackers used domains mimicking the most popular Armenian news websites. Only first-level domains were replaced. The following fake websites were used: lragir[.]org, armradio[.]org, asbares[.]com, armtimes[.]net, armlur[.]org, armenpress[.]org, hraparak[.]org, armtimes[.]org, hetq[.]org. Links to the infected websites were sent to targets by e-mail. At Google they believe that state-sponsored hacking groups participated in the attacks on targets in Armenia.

In parallel, Microsoft also announced about uncovering an attack at the level of zero-day vulnerabilities. And the list of targets also included victims from Armenia[v]. An investigation into the matter by Citizen Lab revealed that the attacks were carried out through the use of a malware developed by Israeli company Candiru. This time Armenian targets received a link to a fake website mimicking Armenpress state news agency. The address of the infected website again represented a complete analogue of the real website with a replaced first-level domain: armenpress[.]net[vi].

On November 24, 2021, a number of users received an alert from Apple that they were victims of an attack by a state-sponsored hacking group. According to CyberHUB-AM group, there are more than ten known cases, although the real number may be higher. Among the potential victims of the attack, which is most likely related to the Pegasus mobile phone malware, there are both pro-government and opposition figures. Artur Vanetsyan, former head of the National Security Service, now the head of “With Honor” opposition parliamentary bloc, openly declared to have received such an email[vii].

Screenshot of Apple's notification to Artur Vanetsyan
Screenshot of Apple’s notification to Artur Vanetsyan

Later, well-known cybersecurity expert Ruben Muradyan, referring to the post of Artur Vanetsyan, announced that he had discovered the popular mobile malware Pegasus on Vanetsyan’s phone two months before he received the email[viii].

And already at the end of the year, a particularly significant event took place: Armenia for the first time appeared on the list of countries that benefit from hacker services at the state level. On December 16, Facebook[ix], Citizen Lab[x] reported on the discovery of the activities of Cytrox, a company that, by the order of government agencies in a number of countries, carried out surveillance of various targets using Predator spyware. And the report lists Armenia as a client of the company, separately highlighting that journalists and politicians were among the targets of surveillance.

Content restrictions

The main content restrictions for journalists and social media users were in place in 2020. A state of emergency was initially declared in Armenia due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, which led to restrictions in the press. During 2020, dozens of online media and users were forced to delete publications or were fined[xi]. However, martial law, declared in the country with the start of the Karabakh war on September 27, 2020, was not lifted after the signing of the ceasefire agreement. Only on March 24, 2021 did the National Assembly lift martial law. Despite the fact that already in the post-war period censorship ended, nevertheless, a number of websites continued to face restrictions. During the war, websites belonging to the domain zone of Azerbaijan and Turkey were blocked in Armenia, and TikTok was also blocked for several weeks. At the same time, there was no official announcement on the blocking of sites. In the post-war period, many users were complaining about the inaccessibility of Azerbaijani and Turkish news portals, and some had also problems with TikTok. Armenian providers continued having problems with the accessibility of websites until March-April 2021[xii]. It is also noteworthy that the absence of any serious reaction by civil society towards the fact of blocking is a major concern. It should also be noted that in Armenia there are no traditions for blocking websites.

Persecutions of users

The authorities’ attempt to detect the administrator of the fake Facebook user “Gagik Soghomonyan” may be considered as the most serious incident. This account spreads highly negative information about government representatives, and he does so in an extremely abusive manner. On February 19, the National Security Service detained 4 persons who were suspected of running the fake account. Ex-deputy from the Republican Party of Armenia Karen Bekaryan, former chief of staff of the National Assembly Ara Saghatelyan, representative of “International Center on Development of Parliamentarism” public organization Mher Ayvazyan and citizen Aram Sargsyan[xiii] were detained. Saghatelyan was arrested for 2 months in this case. At the same time, according to the lawyer, the only evidence of his connection with the fake account was the fact of Saghatelyan’s using the same VPN service[xiv].

As a follow-up, in August 2021 the RA National Assembly adopted changes to the Criminal Code, criminalizing insults. Defamation had been decriminalized in the country as part of the fight for freedom of speech and freedom of the press back in 2010. Now, however, everything is going in the opposite direction.

“Grave insult”, that is, swearing, insulting a person in other ways, according to the new article, is punishable by a fine of 100,000 to one million AMD [about $205-2,050]. If the swearing was public or was published on the Internet, was related to the public activities of a person, then the fine will be from half a million to one million AMD [about $1,025-2,050]. And in case of a repeated insult against the same person, the punishment envisages not only a fine, which will be from one to three million AMD [about $2,050-6,150], but also imprisonment from one to three months[xv].

In general, it should be mentioned that in Armenia there have always been rarer restrictions on the Internet than “offline”. At the same time, the years 2020-2021 began to raise concerns that the situation with network freedoms is steadily deteriorating.


[i] Azerbaijan Cyber Army Telegram channel https://t.me/azcyberarmy

[ii] Facebook post of the media about a hacker attack (in Armenian) — https://www.facebook.com/armtimes/posts/2104467383034405

[iii] Warning about attacks by well-known cybersecurity expert Ruben Muradyan — https://twitter.com/RubenMuradyan/status/1460585479284346883

[iv] How we protect users from 0-day attacks, https://blog.google/threat-analysis-group/how-we-protect-users-0-day-attacks/

[v]  Protecting customers from a private-sector offensive actor using 0-day exploits and DevilsTongue malware, https://www.microsoft.com/security/blog/2021/07/15/protecting-customers-from-a-private-sector-offensive-actor-using-0-day-exploits-and-devilstongue-malware/

[vi] https://citizenlab.ca/2021/07/hooking-candiru-another-mercenary-spyware-vendor-comes-into-focus/

[vii] Artur Vanetsyan’s Facebook post (in Armenian) — https://www.facebook.com/avav111/posts/4128774197228456

[viii] Ruben Muradyan’s post https://www.facebook.com/ruben.muradyan/posts/4521469627973414

[ix] Threat Report on the Surveillance-for-Hire Industry, 16 Dec 2021, https://about.fb.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/Threat-Report-on-the-Surveillance-for-Hire-Industry.pdf

[x] Pegasus vs. Predato, 16 Dec 2021 https://citizenlab.ca/2021/12/pegasus-vs-predator-dissidents-doubly-infected-iphone-reveals-cytrox-mercenary-spyware/

[xi] Armenia: State of Emergency Press Restrictions Continue; 22 Media Outlets Told to Remove/Edit Coronavirus Content https://hetq.am/en/article/114899

[xii] Freedom on the Net, Armenia, 2021.   https://freedomhouse.org/country/armenia/freedom-net/2021

[xiii] The court arrested Ara Saghatelyan for two months in the case of “Gagik Soghomonyan” fake page, https://rus.azatutyun.am/a/31114995.html

[xiv]  Freedom on The Net, Armenia, 2021.   https://freedomhouse.org/country/armenia/freedom-net/2021

[xv] Freedom of speech in post-revolutionary Armenia is in doubt: what is happening? https://jam-news.net/ru/%D1%81%D0%B2%D0%BE%D0%B1%D0%BE%D0%B4%D0%B0-%D1%81%D0%BB%D0%BE%D0%B2%D0%B0-%D0%B2-%D0%BF%D0%BE%D1%81%D1%82%D1%80%D0%B5%D0%B2%D0%BE%D0%BB%D1%8E%D1%86%D0%B8%D0%BE%D0%BD%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%B9-%D0%B0%D1%80/

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Armenia -- Constitutional Court in Yerevan, 12Oct2021

Statement on Constitutional Court’s decision re the Amendments to the RA Civil Code

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 on unlawful obstructions or discontinuance of the activities of journalists and cameramen at the National Assembly

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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Armenia -- Speaker of National Assembly Alen Simonyan, Yerevan, 11Aug2021

Statement on interference with journalists’s work at the National Assembly

11 August, 2021, Yerevan

On 11 August, following a heated exchange between the MPs from the ruling faction and the opposition, Alen Simonyan, Speaker of the National Assembly ordered to discontinue live broadcast. In addition to this, the security officers prohibited the journalists and cameramen accredited with the parliament to shoot the incident from the box allocated to them.

We, the undersigned journalistic organisations note that the Speaker of the National Assembly clearly exceeded his powers: the RA Constitutional Law on the Rules of the National Assembly Procedures does not foresee such a power. RA citizens have a right to and must be informed of anything happening in the parliament, including the conduct of each and every single MP, regardless of whether this conduct is assessed positively or negatively.

We harshly condemn the prohibition imposed on the media representatives by the security officers whereby they were not able to shoot the conflicting situation in the plenary session hall.

Utterly shocked at yet another incident of restricting without any good reason the activities of the journalists accredited in the parliament, yet another infringement on the right to be informed of the RA citizens, we hereby reiterate the assessment as reflected in our August 5 statement, and we demand that the NA leadership:

  • Publicly provide explanations on the legal basis of the interrupted live broadcast of the NA sitting and where there is no such basis, issue a public apology and guarantee that no such incidents will be repeated in the future;,
  • Prevent any incident of obstruction of professional journalistic activity in the NA and any attempt at applying ungrounded restrictions;,
  • Take measures to ensure that the security officers do not exceed their powers and in no way interfere with the work of the media representatives, except for cases provided by the rules of procedure, of which journalists are informed in advance;
  • Annul all the restrictions applied to our colleagues since 2 August until a new rules of procedure for the work of media representatives in the parliament is drafted with the participation of accredited journalists and stakeholder organisations.

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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