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Armenia -- A correspondent and a cameraman of RFE/RL’s Armenian Service were assaulted while covering an opposition demonstration in Yerevan, 23Feb2021

Statement on the attacks on journalists

On 23 February the media workers from Radio Liberty covering the events during a march following the protest act staged by the opposition forces were attacked in Yerevan. A group of protesters insulted and swore at them, threatened with closure of the radio station. Following this, some protesters started hitting journalist Artak Khulyan and cameraman Karen Chilingaryan and damaged the camera.

On the same day, during the police action in respect of the protesters the cameraman of the website Sputnik Armenia, Aram Nersisyan was punched. Earlier during the demonstration on 20 February again Radio Liberty was targetted. Narek Samsonyan, representative of the opposition obstructed the activities of the media outlet, and when the correspondent of the radio station applied to the policemen standing there, the latter showed indifference and inaction.

We have recorded cases in the course of the last months when the representatives of the authorities and their proponents demonstrated discriminatory and insulting attitude to journalists, targeting the opposition media workers.

We condemn the spreading of reciprocal hatred. Believing that this is unacceptable we are convinced that the responsibility for any aggression in respect of the media workers lies with the organisers of demonstrations and marches, which inculcate intolerance in respect of ‘not their own’ media outlets. A vivid example of the aforesaid is the incident with Radio Liberty: the opposition has for quite a while inspired distrust towars this media outlet among its proponents telling them that it works in the interest of Pashinyan’s government.

We, the undersigned media organisations note that this does not contribute to public mobilisation, which is of utmost importance today. And since the mass protests tend to continue, we demand that:

  • The RA Police take measures to prevent any obstruction of the media activity, detect the participants of the above incidents who have exerted violence and hold them liable, as well as hold official inquiries to assess the lawfulness of the actions taken;
  • The organisers of the opposition protests send clear messages to their proponents and followers on the impermissibility of any aggression and intolerance in respect of the media, irrespective of their political orientation.

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

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Statement on the draft law “On Making Amendments to the RA Criminal Code”

On 17 February the draft law on Amendments to the RA Criminal Code authored by the RA Prosecutor’s Office and the Ministry of Justice was posted on www.e-draft.am for public scrutiny. It foresees a penalty in the range of 100 000 to 500 000 AMD for defamation and insult of a public official exercising their powers within public and local self-government bodies and a penality in the range of 500 000 to 3 000 000 AMD or imprisonment for up to 2 years if the act is committed via a mass media outlet or otherwise in public.

This draft is the logical development of a series of legislative initiatives tabled by the authorities with a view to curbing the right to freedom of speech and media activity. As early as 2010, the undersigned organisations were involved in the decriminalisation of defamation and insult in Armenia in pursuit of the ultimate goal of developing a legislative framework commensurate with the tenets of a democratic society. Today, we are experiencing profound disappointment with the fact that the authorities brought to power by the 2018 revolution are foreseeing unacceptable restrictions on freedom of expression through a number of regressive initiatives.

The impression is that the authors of the above amendments to the RA Criminal Code are totally unaware of the Council of Europe requirements and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights on this topic, which are binding for the members of these structures, including Armenia. We refer in particular to the PACE  Resolution No 1577 (2007), paragraph 17․6 of which prescribes removing from defamation and insult legislation any additional protection to public officials in conformity with the ECtHR case law.

It is not our purpose here to protect defamers and insulters. However, we believe it is necessary to remind the authorities that the representatives of the state power and public figures must demonstrate greater tolerance to any criticism and be conscious that whilst exercising their powers they are under close public and media scrutiny. Moreover, according to the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, media and journalists are entitled to a certain degree of exaggeration and provocation. We must not neglect that very often public officials and politicians perceive objective media criticism as insult and defamation and resort to courts in retaliation. Criminal liability, including by imprisonment foreseen by these amendments may act as an instrument to reduce to a minimum the public officials’ public accountability.

In view of the aforesaid we demand that։

  • The RA Government withdraws the draft law in question on Amendments to the RA Criminal Code;
  • The legislative and the executive branches rethink the policy of media regulation by means of disproportionate restrictions and initiate broad public discussions with a view to finding adequate solutions to the existing problems;
  • The international organisations keep these worrying legislative processes threatening with a backsliding in democracy and human rights in the focus of their attention.

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
“RULE OF LAW” HUMAN RIGHTS 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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