Protests as former president is charged, improvement in freedom of expression recorded by csos

Association

On 24th May 2019, the EU Delegation to Armenia presented the ”EU Road map for Engagement with Civil Society in Armenia 2018-2020”. The document defines the EU priorities for the next few years regarding their support to Armenian civil society. According to the web page of the EU Delegation in Armenia, the document was drafted and adopted following wide consultations with civil society organisations, held between June and December 2018.

Peaceful Assembly

Protests as former president Robert Kocharyan is charged in court

After the velvet revolution in Armenia which took place in the spring of 2018, and the transformation that followed in the country, criminal cases have been brought against several senior officials. Some were related to the personal use of state financial resources, corruption and abuse of power. Among those whom the investigators have decided to prosecute are former president Robert Kocharyan and other high-level officials.

On 13th May 2019, former president Robert Kocharyan was brought to court to answer to charges of human rights violations after a protest that was held in 2008 left at least 10 people dead. As previously reported on the Monitor, Kocharyan was charged with financial fraud and his connection with the violent dispersal of opposition protesters in Yerevan in 2008 following disputed election results. The then president also introduced a state of emergency. The court hearing proceeded on 13th May despite Kocharyan’s lawyer applying to have the judge recuse himself, citing lack of independence, an argument which the judge overruled as unreasonable. The case continued amid protests by Kocharyan’s supporters and opponents who exchanged accusations.

Protest in Vanadzor region against the Hydro Power Plant’s activities

More than 300 Armenian villagers threatened to divert the riverbed of the Gegarot River in order to stop the building of two hydropower plants (HPPs). The protesters argued that the activity of the two HPPs has led to a deterioration of the quality of the river water.

The Caucasian Knot reported that on 17th March 2019, a protest of more than a hundred people blocked traffic along the Yerevan-Vanadzor highway demanding that the operations of the two HPPs be stopped. The governor promised to solve the problem and the HPPs’ activity was suspended for 10 days. After a few months, the villagers from the same region decided to take matters into their own hands by diverting the riverbed in the water intake areas. The protesters claimed that the problem had not been solved and the situation has worsened every year.

One week later, the Environment Protection Agency suspended the operation of the two small HPPs on the Gegarot River, but did not to stop their full activity. After the suspension, the villagers announced to authorities that they would not stop protesting until the problem was resolved.

Protest against tax code change proposals

In June 2019, members of the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) in Armenia protested against proposed new tax regulations. They gathered in front of the National Assembly to oppose the changes and argued instead for an efficient public debate with civil society participation. The Armenian Weekly publication reported that the proposals, which would change Armenia’s taxation laws from a progressive regime to a flat taxation rate, were made by the country’s ruling My Step Alliance. The protesters opposed this proposal, which would see all personal income being taxed at the same rate. On the other hand, the drafters of the new regulations argued the flat tax is fairer and more in line with the goals of the post-revolution state and will stimulate the national economy.

Expression

According to the World Press Freedom Index, issued by Reporters without Borders every year, Armenia improved its ranking by 19 positions, to 61st position out of 180 countries, and is making significant progress in comparison with other states in the region. The Index however also showed that the Armenian press is still following the interests of media owners, and this could be one of the major challenges for the next period. In this regard, journalistic independence and transparent media ownership will continue to be major themes for debates.

Increased pressure against Armenian women human rights defenders

On 9th April 2019, the Human Rights House Foundation released a letter of concern in which Maria Dahle, the director of the Human Rights House Foundation tried to raise awareness about the pressure against women human rights defenders in Armenia. The letter was sent to the authorities to gain support against ”growing hate speech and smear campaigns against them, coming from (often fake) Facebook profiles and media outlets”. In addition to this, special attention was paid to the discourses against the LGBT community in Armenia. The authors explained that hate speech is often directed against human rights defenders working on gender equality and sexual orientation. The letter also included recommendations for public authorities and examples on how hate speech against Armenian women human rights defenders is spread throughout society.