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Armenia -- The logo of the Human Rights Defender, Yerevan, 22Mar2021

Statement on cyberbullying against journalist Ani Gevorgyan and her child

On 14 April, 2021, Arman Tatoyan, the RA Human Rights Defender announced that Ani Gevorgyan, journalist from the website Tert.am, had applied to him informing that she had received threats in different social media in connection with performance by her of her professional journalistic activities. In particular, several users had disseminated a photo of her and her child along with insulting and degrading texts.

Taking note of HRD Arman Tatoyan’s intention to send a letter to the RA Police and that Ani Gevorgyan has already reported the case to the law enforcement authorities, we hereby record an increase in the cases of attacks and pressure on journalists both in the social media and during mass political protests. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to develop a culture of civilized political debate within our society and confronting any dissent with hatred, swear words and threats still remains widespread. Furthermore, no regard whatsoever is paid to the danger of illegally publicizing the photos and other personal data of minors. Under these circumstances special attention by the law enforcement authorities to the problem and taking adequate countermeasures becomes even more demanded.

We, the undersigned journalistic organizations, condemn any form of pressure on media representatives, especially if this is connected with a criminally punishable act, such as a threat to a journalist or his/her close relative. Underlining the importance of the precedent of a journalist applying to a state institution, we demand that:

  • The RA Police take steps to ensure Ani Gevorgyan’s safety, to identify and hold liable the users that have insulted and threatened her in social networks.
  • The political forces and their proponents demonstrate more restraint in respect of journalists and the media performing their professional duty regardless of their focus, disseminated ideas and views.

We call on journalists to voice any incident of violation of their rights, which will contribute to giving publicity to the issue and effectively protecting the rights of media workers.

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
FEMIDA NGO

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Armenian Parliament Building

Statement on tripling fines for insult and defamation

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
FEMIDA NGO

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Statement on drastic increase of damages awards in defamation and insult cases

On 11 February, 2021, the parliament adopted a draft law authored by Alen Simonyan, Vice Speaker of the parliament, in the first reading, according to which the maximum amount of damages awards in defamation and insult cases must be multiplied by five to reach 10 mln and 5 mln AMD, respectively. We hereby note that yet another time the National Assembly is adopting legislation concerning the mass media, which is not founded on profound research and advice of competent experts.

This said, on 16 September when the above draft was first circulated we made a statement, noting that drastic increase of the damages awards may create serious threats for the whole media field, detrimenting not only indecent platforms but also journalists respecting the law and professional ethics, especially if we take into consideration that very often it is the good faith criticism of the media that is perceived as defamation or insult and result in judicial disputes.

We hereby reassert that the proposed amendment undermines the balance between the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention and the right to reputation as an element of the right to privacy guaranteed by Article 8 of the same Convention. Apart from this, it undermines the important principle reflected in the Decision No 997 of the Constitutional Court dated 15 November 2011, according to which when awarding damages in defamation and insult cases it is necessary to consider the financial situation of media outlets in order for such liability not to destroy them.

This draft that has passed its first reading is even more worrying in the light of the facts that solution to the problems in the field of the media is being sought by means of repressive legislative amendments and their enforcement. A vivid example of the aforesaid is the package of amendments to the Law on Mass Communication and the Code of Administrative Violations, which foresee references to anonymous sources in publications and a fine in the amount of 500 000 AMD for breaching this ban and in the amount of 1 mln AMD in case of repetitive violations.

In the circumstances of such regressive initiatives any step of the authorities in the field of the media will be perceived as a pressure on freedom of speech conditioned by narrow personal interests and priorities, as is the case of restrictions imposed by the NSS in respect of the media work in some areas in Syunik. The statements and clarifications made in this respect, as well as the actions taken create a lot of uncertainty, are controversial and inspire search for hidden agendas behind them.

Taking into consideration the unacceptable processes, which are taking place, as well as the likely negative implications of the legislative amendments concerning defamation and insult, we, the undersigned organizations, demand that:

  •  The National Assembly postpones the second reading and adoption of the above draft, and initiates public discussions on the problem of defamation and insult imparted by the media and the possible countermeasures to this;
  • The RA President refuses to sign the law in case it is adopted by the NA, expressing his clear position on this regressive initiative;
  • The state institutions ensure the fulfilment of the rights to freedom of information and access to information when building their relations with the mass media;
  • The international organizations discuss the problems of adoption of legislation concerning the media by the RA parliament in blatant neglect of the related international norms, as well as 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

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Armenian Media Organizations

Statement on broadcasting hate speech and inciting violence

On the evening of November 12, 2020, the words of an Artsakh war veteran were played back on the large screen placed in Yerevan’s Republic square, which contained swearing and hate speech, threats of violence and murder. A part of the video was also broadcast on Public Television of Armenia.

Following the pogroms organized against the authorities, now it looks as though the authorities themselves do not wish to discriminate in the means of political struggle.

The escalating internal political confrontations in these crucial times for Armenia are pulling the society further apart, which can lead to irreversible consequences. As to the media and especially so in the case of the public broadcaster, their prime mission should be to consolidate the society and act responsibly in the face of the hard challenges facing the country.

We, the undersigned media organizations, express our support for the assessments and demands put forth by Arman Tatoyan, Human Rights Defender of Armenia, in a Facebook post. We strictly condemn dissemination of speech containing hate, swearing and threats, as well as the broadcasting of similar materials by the Public Television.

We also demand:

• The authorities to express a public position on the fact of publicizing hate, animosity and calls for violence, and hold responsible those officials, who have organized and carried out this impermissible action;

• The Council of the Public Television and Radio Company to implement due oversight over the broadcast content and exclude animosity and inciting violence in these difficult times for the country;

• The private media to act with utmost sense of responsibility, cover issues in a comprehensive and balanced manner, in accordance with the professional journalistic ethics.

We call on our compatriots not to give way to provocations, be it from the opposition or the authorities, and refrain from actions, which could lead to civil unrest.

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

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RFERL Logo Large Landscape

Statement on the attack against the Armenian service of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Today, on November 10, at about 4:00 AM, dozens of men tried to burst into the Yerevan Bureau of “Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty” (Azatutyun Radio). The attackers knocked on the doors with their feet and fists, swore at the employees of the Bureau. According to the statement published by the radio station, the attackers said that they have come to take away the servers to stop Azatutyun from broadcasting, swore at the employees, and pushed them around. The attackers left after Radio Liberty’s employees called the police.

We, the undersigned media organizations, express our indignation over this unbridled attack; we consider any violence, pressure, persecution of journalists, and the media inadmissible at such a critical moment for Armenia.

We demand from the law enforcement bodies to take immediate measures to find the initiators and perpetrators of the attack on the radio station and bring them to justice.

We call on all political forces, non-government and other bodies, initiatives, and citizens to show restraint and exclude any harassment against the media and their employees, regardless of their political orientation.

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

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Collage of vehicles carrying journalists, which came under fire in Artsakh

Statement regarding the Azerbaijani targeting of journalists

In the past few days, military operations have escalated in Nagorno-Karabakh. In this connection, covering the conflict has become extremely complicated for Armenian and foreign journalists. Azerbaijan keeps launching extensive missile attacks against peaceful settlements, including the capital Stepanakert, flagrantly violating the humanitarian norms stipulated by the Geneva Convention. Media representatives that have been performing their professional duties are being targeted just like the urban and rural population.

On October 1, 2020, as a result of those hatred-based actions, two foreign and two Armenian journalists were wounded, in response to which we have already expressed our outrage. On the following day, a group of journalists on a bus miraculously escaped the Azerbaijani UAV chase. More cases of threat to journalists’ life and health have been reported in Stepanakert on October 4.

On October 2, Hikmat Hajiyev, an aide to the Azerbaijani president, weirdly justified the cases of targeting the media representatives. According to him, foreign journalists have not obtained permission from the Azerbaijani government, therefore their stay in Nagorno-Karabakh is illegal and Baku should bear no responsibility for their safety.

This is nothing else but an indirect threat to journalists, guided by military actions against them. Basically Azerbaijan, with few exceptions, does not accredit the foreign media representatives that would like to cover the conflict, making every attempt to impede their work on the Armenian side by life-and-health-threatening actions. This also infringes the right of the public to obtain information under martial law.

Taking this situation into account, we, the undersigned organizations, call upon international structures and all our foreign partners to pay attention to the assaults of Azerbaijan against journalists, as well as raise their voice in protest and perform practical steps in order to counteract their 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 THE FUTURE” NGO
“JOURNALISTS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS” NGO
GORIS PRESS CLUB

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Vehicle carrying journalists came under fire in Martuni town, Artsakh

Statement of media organizations on targeting journalists in Artsakh’s Martuni town by Azerbaijan

Today, on October 1st, 2020 Armenian and foreign journalists located in the town of Martuni, in Artsakh, suffered as a result of artillery fire from Azerbaijan. More specifically, representatives of “Le Monde” newspaper, correspondent Allan Kaval and photojournalist Rafael Charles Yaghobzadeh, cameraman of “Armenia” television company Aram Grigorian and correspondent of online news portal “24news.am” Sevak Vardumian were injured. Deputy editor-in-chief of the Russian “Dozhd” TV channel Dmitry Yelovsky also came under Azerbaijani fire, but he was able to take cover in a bomb shelter along with other journalists.

According to official information, Azerbaijani troops opened fire on the vehicle carrying representatives of Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency.

It is worth noting, that the journalists suffered in a region, which is quite far from the line of contact between the conflicting sides. This is yet another proof that the attacks of the Azerbaijani military are also directed against the civilian population. This fact, as well as firing on journalists is a gross violation of the Geneva Convention.

Given the above-mentioned circumstances, we, the undersigned media organizations, are calling on:
· The International Community to resolutely condemn the war unleashed by Azerbaijan and demand from the official Baku to stop attacks on civilians and media representatives performing their professional duty;
· Governments of Armenia and Artsakh to take additional steps to ensure the safety of journalists.

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

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Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay

Statement on the case of “Lori TV” editor-in-chief

With indignation and disappointment do we learn that the Court of General Jurisdiction of Lori Marz (Judge Susanna Gzogyan) decided not to prosecute any of the people accused of using physical violence against the editor-in-chief of “Lori TV” Narine Avetisyan.
We should remind that that on September 28, 2017, Narine Avetisyan was informed that asphalt was being laid on the bridge adjacent to the St. Astvatsatsin Church of Vanadzor city in the heavy rain, and she left for the site to cover the ongoing works. When she was shooting some footage, the head of Shinplus construction company Tigran Nazaryan and his staff attacked Narine Avetisyan, scrolled her arms, threw her onto the ground, snatched her phone, and deleted the photos.
The criminal case initiated on the case with an indictment was filed with the court on February 23, 2018, and after a trial that lasted for 2 and half years Tigran Nazaryan was found not guilty and acquitted on the grounds that his involvement in the crime had not been proven. Whereas the employee of the organization Vrezh Khachatryan was released from criminal responsibility due to the expiration of the statute of limitations.
Even though the Lori Marz Prosecutor’s Office had clearly described what had happened in the indictments, the court ignored it and failed to impose a sentence on the defendants. It is completely incomprehensible and unacceptable why the rather simple case was delayed for so long․ Maybe for the purpose of applying the statute of limitations?
This judgment, in fact, not only acquits the person who attacked a journalist, but also gives a “green light” for new instances of violence against media representatives and creates an environment of impunity.
Taking into consideration the apparent bias and injustice of the judgment, we, the undersigned organizations, demand:
– From the Ethics and Disciplinary Committee of Council of Courts of the Republic of Armenia and the Minister of Justice to study the given case and initiate disciplinary proceedings in case of intentional or negligent violation of the norm of substantive or procedural law by Judge Susanna Gzogyan,
– From the Criminal Court of Appeal, to overturn the decision of the first instance, ensure a comprehensive and impartial investigation of the case, and bring to justice those who used violence against the journalist.

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

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The sessions hall of the Armenian National Assembly Parliament

Media watchdogs criticize plans to sharply increase monetary compensation for insult and defamation

The Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly of the RA Alen Simonyan tabled a legislative initiative which proposes to increase the maximum amount of monetary compensation for insult and defamation five times to 5 million and 10 million AMD, respectively, which has caused concern and indignation among the Armenian and international journalistic community. This approach, put forward for purely political reasons, can in no way contribute to the realization of the stated goals, namely the exclusion of irresponsible journalism, and the protection of citizens’ rights to information.

This initiative is even more dangerous against the background of the fact that the number of lawsuits filed by government officials against the media on the grounds of insult and / or slander is increasing every month, by the way, claiming the maximal amount of compensation, namely 1 million AMD for insult and 2 million AMD for slander. It is true that these claims are seldom satisfied met, but in the current situation, the fivefold increase in the amount of the compensation will be a clear message for the judiciary to push for tougher decisions against the media.

This would upset the balance between the right to freedom of expression enshrined in Article 10 of the European Convention and the dignity of a person as a component of one’s private life, protected by Article 8 of the same Convention. In addition, the most important provision of the RA Constitutional Court Decision No. 997 of November 15, 2011, will be ignored, according to which the financial situation of the media must be taken into account when assigning compensation for insult and slander in the publications, so that this responsibility does not lead to their collapse.

The economic crisis caused by the coronavirus has already had a severe impact on the activities of the media. It is obvious that the sharp increase in the amount of compensation for insult and defamation under Article 1087.1 of the RA Civil Code will become a serious threat to the sector as a whole, leading to punishment not only to some indecent platforms, but also hurting journalists who comply with the law and professional ethics. There are many cases when justified criticism is perceived as insult or slander, and attempts are made to “deal with” the media through the court.

The tabled draft in question causes concerns because in recent months there have been frequent legislative initiatives related to the media, which are not based on in-depth studies of the situation or expert advice.

Taking the above mentioned into account, we as journalistic organizations, demand from the National Assembly:

– to reject the inclusion of the above-mentioned bill in the agenda of the Parliament and withdraw the document from circulation,
– to initiate open discussions on the insult and slander disseminated by media outlets and the options of responding to them, with the participation of representatives from political forces, state bodies, media, non-governmental organizations and international organizations,
– to promote legislatively the development of quality journalism and extrajudicial settlement of information disputes.

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

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Statement on Ex-Police Chief’s Attack on RFE/RL Reporters

On August 8 the former Chief of Police of Armenia Vladimir Gasparyan demonstrated a lawless conduct towards the journalists of Radio Liberty, obstructing their professional activity. The latter were preparing a report at the shoreline of Lake Sevan about buildings and structures illegally constructed along the shore. Noticing that the journalists were taking footage of his mansion, too, the former Chief of Police, according to Radio Liberty, drove his car in their direction, threatening to run them over and exterminate physically – “shoot them dead,” “beat them to death” – and then used obscene curses, demanding not to publish the footage.

During his years in office, Vladimir Gasparyan was notorious for his insolent, and in some cases even cruel attitude towards media representatives. We should recall that during the events of Electric Yerevan in 2015 and those of Sari Tagh in  2016 over 40 journalists and cameramen were subject to physical violence and unlawful persecution. Or we can recall his gross insult to the correspondent of 1.am news website Siranuysh Papyan which caused unconcealed indignation among the journalistic community.

All this remained unpunished, and obviously, that is the very reason why today the former Chief of Police continues to act indecently towards journalists.

Taking the above-stated into consideration, we as journalistic organizations demand from law enforcement bodies to investigate the incident and bring Vladimir Galstyan to responsibility in the manner established by the law.

 

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

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