Increase of defamation and insult fines threaten freedom of press and expression
Defamation and insult fines have increased threefold in Armenia
The Armenian parliament voted on March 24 2021, for new amendments to the Civil Code. Among the new regulations is the consistent increase in fines for defamation and insult. A total of 76 deputies voted for the new proposals, 40 deputies voted against, and three people abstained. According to civil society experts, these changes will negatively impact freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Fines for defamation can reach the amount of 6 million Armenian dramas, and for insult - 3 million dramas, being increased three times compared to previous legal provisions. In 2010, the authorities decriminalized the defamation in Armenia 2010, which is one of the Council of Europe's recommendations.
The #Armenia|n parliament has adopted amendments to the Civil Code dramatically raising the maximum penalties for defamation and insult offenses - a move that local media organizations said would “significantly damage” #FreedomOfSpeech and expression.https://t.co/1JCHODWSZn— Anne Weber (@annehweber) March 26, 2021
The civil society criticized the changes submitted and subsequently voted by the Armenian deputies. Thus, on March 15, 2021, the Helsinki Citizens Assembly Vanadzor organization presented in a public position how the new provisions will affect freedom of expression and freedom of the press. According to experts, "Criminalization of slander and insult will inevitably affect freedom of the press, while the size of the fine and deprivation of liberty established by the draft will even cast doubt upon the activity and freedom of speech of the mass media." After voting on the second reading amendments in March 2021, several civil society organizations called on the country's president, Armen Sarkisian, not to sign the law. The same experts demand that the law be sent to the Constitutional Court to express itself regarding the constitutionality of its provisions.
“This initiative is yet another tool of the incumbent authorities aimed at restricting free speech in general, and freedom of the press in particular. Taking into consideration the pivotal role that the media plays in disseminating information regarding issues of public concern in a democratic society, we condemn any such initiative, including the bill on making an amendment to the relevant Article of the Civil Code that was proposed by Alen Simonyan, today, and urge not to include the bill in the agenda of the National Assembly.” said The Union of Journalist of Armenia
After months of protests, Armenian officials announced early parliamentary elections
After signing the Treaty between Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia in November 2020, the Nagorno Karabakh region passes back under Azerbaijan's jurisdiction. In Yerevan, things degenerated into a domestic political crisis. Immediately after the announcement made by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, several ordinary citizens, but also members of the opposition parties, stormed public institutions, not agreeing with the prime minister's decision. Over time, the protests became more numerous, with their organizers demanding the withdrawal of Armenia's signature from the treaty and resignation of Nikol Pashinyan. Thousands protested in Yerevan and other cities across the country.
After the #opposition rally in #Yerevan, law enforcers detained brothers of Ishkhan Sagatelyan, the coordinator of the "Movement to Save Motherland", the oppositionist himself informed.#Armenia #protests— Caucasian Knot (@CaucasianKnotEn) March 29, 2021
In February 2021, the political situation worsened again. On February 25, 2021, Nikol Pashinyan announced an attempt by the military to stage a coup. As a result, several thousand representatives of opposition parties took to the streets again and demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Pashinyan. Many of them spent the night in front of the parliament building, setting up tents or even barricades. The protests continued almost daily, including in March. The perpetuation of the crisis imposed the need to have discussions between different powers in the state. On March 13, Radio Free Europe announced that following talks between the country's president and prime minister, it was decided to hold early parliamentary elections. The ruling party did not agree with Nikol Pashinyan's resignation, demanded by protesters for a few months. Thus, after several months of protests, attended by thousands of people, on March 18, the official announcement was made that in Armenia, early parliamentary elections will be held on June 20, 2021. Demonstrations continued in Yerevan at the end of March. Participants continued to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. They believe that a de facto resignation is needed, not just the current prime minister's formal resignation.
”My rights” activists protested asking for protection of refugees rights
Several activists, residents of Nagorno Karabakh, have decided to unblock the access road to Stepanakert, the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic's capital. According to them, the protest launched on March 25, 2021, aimed to draw attention to residents of the region who were displaced or lost their homes, i.e., refugees' status after the 6-week conflict in Nagorno Karabakh (September - November 2020). After talks with officials on March 26, opposition activists in the "My Right" movement decided to allow lawmakers to pass a law regulating the situation of people left without property following its destruction or confiscation.
Following the six-week conflict in Nagorno Karabakh (2020), many residents of the region have been left homeless. Many of them are forced to relocate. Their situation is challenging, and Armenian civil society is drawing attention because it faces a humanitarian catastrophe in the region.
Authorities should sustain the principle of funding of the institute of Human Rights Defender
In March, CivilNet held a debate on the financial support of human rights defenders in Armenia. The discussion was called "Why does the Government want to review the funding of the Human Rights Defender?". In the context of the pandemic and other internal events, the financing of this principle returned to the attention of civil society experts. According to Helsinki Citizens Assembly Vanadzor, who was represented at the debate by Artur Sakunts, Chairman. According to Artur Sakunts, the Human Rights Defender's institute is based on the implementation of human rights obligations undertaken by the state. He added that the state should implement this mission with the state budget resources. Promoting the principle of financing this democratic institute ensures and guarantees its independence. In the same press release, Vanadzor mentions that this field's financial resources have decreased considerably after the war in Nagorno Karabakh in 2020. Under these conditions, state authorities must take the necessary measures to ensure the institute's functionality and take care that the funding principle is insured and guaranteed.