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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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