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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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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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Press Freedom Banner

Statement on the arrest of Roman Protasic, creator of the opposition channel Nexta

The international journalistic community had to observe the appalling actions of the Belarussian authorities. On 23 May, the government of the country resorted to unprecedented steps with a view to arresting Roman Protasevich, author of Nexta opposition Telegram channel by means of forcing a Ryanair airplane to land in Minsk. And this is not the first incident of unlawful actions in respect of journalists in Belarus. Many colleagues of our have been for years persecuted in this country, and such practices intensified after the disputable presidential elections in 2020.

In December 2016, the head of state Alexander Lukashenko was directly involved in the arrest and extradition to Azerbaijan of Alexander Lapshin – a traveller and a blogger. The official Minsk had dismissed the fact that Lapshin was a Russian and Israeli national and that he was in Belarus for tourism not having violated any law. It is known that the European Court of Human Rights issued a judgment against Azerbaijan in the case of Lapshin on 20 May, 3 days prior to the incident with Protasevich upholding allegations against Baku in subjecting Lapshin to torture, attempted murder, as well as forgery. The ECtHR judgment was an indirect condemnation of the Belarussian authorities’ impermissible actions which are seen as a clear challenge to the international community and international law.

We, the underisgned Armenian journalistic organisations, call on the world leaders to take decisive and strong measures against regimes infringing the principle of freedom of expression and tightening pressures on representatives of the media. Both Armenian and foreign media representatives suffered considerably during the 44-day war in Artsakh and as citizens and journalists of a country that had gone through this war we cannot stay indifferent to the facts of cynical denouncement of the values of contemporary civilisation, demanding for zero tolerance to such cases.

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

Statement by journalists on insulting remarks against the Human Rights Defender

On 19 March, Mr Sargis Aleksanyan, a founding member of the Civil Contract party publicly addressed swear words to Mr Arman Tatoyan, the RA Human Rights Defender on his Facebook page. The reason was the HRD’s statement, condemining the violence exerted by Mr Hakob Arshakyan, RA Minister for High Technologies in respect of journalist Paylak Fahradyan. This post containing swear words were hailed by some of other representatives of the authorities, including Mr Nikolay Baghdasaryan, member of parliament. Other similar posts were disseminated in defence of Hakob Arshakyan whose authors demonstrated disrespectful attitude to the HRD, essentially for consistently performing his professional obligations.

We, the undersigned organisations, are concerned about this indecent conduct and condemn such incidents. This is the consequence of the atmosphere of hatred and intolerance in the country when even adequate criticism in respect of this or that public figure is perceived as a ‘hostile act,’ generating aggressive response.

It is of utmost importance that the impermissible conduct of politicians and their proponents is publicly condemned and the culprits are punished severely under the law. We hereby remind that according to Article 332.2 of the Criminal Code, “Threatening the Human Rights Defender in connection with the exercise of his/her powers, or demonstrating an explicitly direspectful attitude to him/her is punished by a fine in the amount of 200  – 500 x the minimum salary or detention for a period of 1-3 months.”

Perhaps this attitude of the representatives of the ruling political force conditions the underestimation of the HRD’s large-scale work and giving a political context to it. The Government’s proposal on the funding of the HRD’s office is even more worrying and can negatively impact the independence guarantees of this institute. We believe that in the post-war context when numerous new threats have emerged and the role of the HRD has increased significantly along with the volume of its work such an attitude is inacceptable. Incidentally, this problem has been addressed by the highly reputable international organisation Freedom House, which stressed that such approaches may deepen the crisis in Armenia and that the authorities must ensure smooth activities of the human rights institutions.

In the light of the aforesaid, we demand that:

  • The Civil Contract party and the NA My step faction publicly condemn the swear words addressed to the HRD and apologise to Arman Tatoyan, hold the culprits liable and provide guarantees for the prevention of such conduct in the future.
  • The NA leadership form an ethics commission with a view to examining the issue and officially publicise the adopted conclusion.
  • The ruling political force review the non-objective assessment of the HRD’s work and exclude such changes of the ways of funding of the HRD’s office that may reduce the independence and efficiency thereof.

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 -- HTI Minister Hakob Arshakyan attacks journalist Paylak Fahradyan, Yerevan, 18Mar2021

Statement on the Minister’s use of violence against a journalist

Yesterday, on 18 March, Hakob Arshakyan, RA Minister for High Technologies exerted violence on Paylak Fahradyan, editor of the website www.irakanum.am in one of Yerevan cafes. Paylak Fahradyan had earlier approached the Minister and inquired why he was in a cafe during working hours. According to press publications, the conversation was unethical on both sides, following which the Minister punched the journalist and damaged his computer and cellphone.

It is really unprecedented for a Minister to resort to fists in his dealings with a journalist. This is yet another incident of extreme tension, mutual intolerance and indecent behaviour between the authorities and media workers. We have recorded such examples in the National Assembly and during many public events. High-ranking officials and politicians must be ready to appear in the focus of attention of the public and the media and demonstrate restraint in respect of the questions addressed to them. We would like to stress that journalists, in their turn, must abide by the law and standards of professional ethics.

We have all grounds to regard this incident as a result of inadeqaute response of the authorities to previous similar incidents. We find it surprising that some of Hakob Arshakyan’s team members are trying to make public statements and comments directly or indirectly justifying the incident of violence.

We, the undersigned media organisations, believe that exerting violence on journalists is impermissible and demand that:

  • The Government and the Civil Contract party publicly condemn the Minister’s behaviour, examine the question of whether he should continue to remain in office and provide safeguards for the prevention of similar incidents in the future.
  • The law enforcement authorities examine the details of the incident and provide a legal assessment thereof.

We call on journalists to avoid provocative attitude in dealings with public officials and politicians, in particular in cases when this does not contribute to the accomplishment of the journalistic mission of imparting objective information to the public.

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

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