Several protests around Nagorno Karabakh issues held, court criticised for restrictive judgment
Several protests by Nagorno Karabakh refugees held in Yerevan
Between September and October 2021, several protests by Armenian refugees from different provinces of the Nagorno Karabakh region took place in Yerevan. The protesters called on the Armenian authorities to have their status recognised and be provided with what they need to survive. One of the protests took place on 2nd September when refugees from the Kashatag District called on the authorities to provide them with housing or pay them compensation for the loss of property following the withdrawal from the Nagorno Karabakh region in the aftermath of the September 2020 war. More than 100 people took part in the protest in front of the Armenian government building. After authorities failed to act on the protesters’ demands, more protest actions followed. Another one took place on 9th September while another took place on 12th September, when about 100 protesters, this time from Hadrut district, took to the streets. According to Radio Free Europe, more than 10,000 ethnic Armenians lived in the district before the outbreak of the war last year. Almost all of them fled their homes, taking refuge in Armenia or other parts of Karabakh, still controlled by the Karabakh authorities. Most of the refugees had cheap housing, but their socio-economic situation remained precarious with many of them failing to find jobs. Authorities promised to launch a new refugee aid programme for the Nagorno Karabakh residents.
On 27th October another protest took place, in which the refugees demanded that their status be recognised and that the authorities keep their promises. Days later, on 1st November, about 1,000 people protested in Yerevan near the headquarters of international organisations and the diplomatic missions of some Western states. Among the protesters' demands were: international recognition of Nagorno Karabakh's independence, humanitarian assistance, and sanctions against Azerbaijan and Turkey.
Liberation Movement demands publishing of border demarcation document
The draft of an official document on the demarcation of the borders between Armenia and Azerbaijan brought people to the streets of Yerevan. The protesters, who were Liberation Movement supporters, called on government authorities to publicise the draft demarcation document for the borders with Azerbaijan. On 22nd November 2021, police detained several activists who blocked several streets in the Armenian capital after 18 people were arrested. On 23rd November 2021, Liberation Movement representatives asked prime minister Nikol Pashinian to publish the document. The protest continued the next day when two other protesters were detained.
The protests in Armenia took place in the context of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan after military operations took place between September and November 2020 in Nagorno Karabakh. They ended on 9th November 2020, when an agreement was signed between the warring parties, and Azerbaijan regained control of the province. The signing of the agreement was made possible through the mediation of Russia.
Remarks by speaker of parliament spark protests
On 7th December 2021, remarks by Alen Simonyan, the speaker of the Armenian parliament, sparked outrage and protests. This was after Simonyan stated that many of the soldiers ‘taken hostage by Azerbaijan's military forces were deserters.’
According to Caucasian Knot, relatives of the prisoners of war staged the protest asking him to explain his statement. On 8th December 2021, some members of opposition political parties also joined the protest.
During the protest, the relatives of the imprisoned soldiers blocked several streets and surrounded the parliament building, where they spent the night.
Constitutional Court accused of promoting pressure on press freedom
On 5th October 2021, the law on a threefold increase in compensation for insult and defamation was declared constitutional by the Constitutional court. The law, adopted in March 2021, aimed at increasing fines for publishing insults and defamatory comments in the media and social networks, but had been referred for the court’s opinion after President Armen Sarkissian refused to approve it because of its potential impact on press freedom. The law was first tabled in the National Assembly in September 2020, and taken through a rushed voting process which saw its adoption by parliament in March 2021, after the country's prime minister, Nikol Pashynian, was subjected to public criticism.
Experts however accused the Court of supporting and promoting pressure on the opposition. Media experts believe that the new regulations, declared constitutional, will prejudice freedom of expression, and especially independent publications. According to the new regulations, the maximum fine for "insults" will be €5,400 and almost €11,000 for "defamation". The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) also believe that this law will impact the right to freedom of expression, which is one of the pillars of true democracy.
On 11th October 2021, several media NGOs issued a public statement on the Court’s decision. The signatories asked the Armenian National Assembly members to review the legal framework regulating the media and called on the President, the Constitutional Court and all political actors to contribute to an enabling legal framework for the media. They also invited international organisations to assist the authorities in reforming media legislation.
ICJ warns against hate speech by Armenia and Azerbaijan in light of conflict
On 7th December 2021, the International Court of Justice noted the racial hatred rhetoric promoted by representatives of Armenia and Azerbaijan in the context of escalating conflict in the Nagorno Karabakh region. Armenia's contention presented to the court concerned the ill-treatment of Armenian hostages in Azerbaijani prisons. On the other hand, the Azerbaijani side accused Armenia of sabotaging the mine clearance process in the Nagorno Karabakh region, which recently came under Azerbaijani jurisdiction. The Azeris claim that they have failed to obtain a map of the location of the mines, which endanger human lives.
The judges of the International Court of Justice urged both parties to refrain from actions based on racial hate speech. The Court instructed the parties to refrain from such measures that harm human rights and freedoms and refrain from actions that could undermine subsequent decisions of judges.
Journalist threatened with death
On 12th December 2021, it was reported that Armenian journalist Tatul Hakobyan, the head of the ANI Foundation for Armenian Studies, said he was threatened with death because of his professional work. According to the journalist, who at the time was reporting from the United States, the threats were coordinated from Armenia and were related to his statements in a previous interview where he said that ‘Armenia is where Armenian soldiers are’.
The Union of Journalists of Armenia issued a public statement urging the authorities to take the necessary measures to protect their colleague when he returns to the country. Several non-governmental organisations also urged other CSOs to show solidarity against hate speech and any impediments to journalistic activity.
In his public statements, Tatul Hakobyan urged law enforcement and the US Embassy to provide support and ensure his physical security.