Watchdog reports access to information issues from "blacklisted" public institutions

Expression

The Freedom of Information Centre of Armenia (FOICA), a non-governmental organisation monitoring public institutions' compliance with the right to information, published a "blacklist" for 2017. According to FOICA, the blacklist includes public institutions in violation of the law on access to public data and information. Most of the requests sent by FOICA to public institutions, for example, have not received any response, even when the authorities are obliged to provide an official response. The majority of the unanswered requests for information concern funding for different projects launched by the authorities. The blacklist of non-communicative institutions includes the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of International Economic Integration and Reforms, the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Emergency Situations.

In January 2018, FOICA reported that "provincial administrations are quicker to respond to citizens' requests than government ministries". Also, FOICA found that issues have arisen when a request to a government agency is submitted electronically. Some agencies refuse to respond to electronic submissions, even though by law electronic requests for information should be considered in the same way as written ones.

Peaceful Assembly

Several cases involving members of armed opposition group Sasna Tsrer have regained public attention in Armenia and sparked protests in January 2018. From November to December 2017, several members of Sasna Tsrer, who were involved in hostage taking and the storming of a police station in Yerevan in July 2016, had hearings on their cases. Their actions received widespread popular support and sparked the largest series of anti-government protests in recent memory. On 29th December 2017, one of the arrested demonstrators, Araik Khandoyan, declared a hunger strike. Khandoyan later required medical assistance and suspended the strike after ten days. 

In another case, political prisoner Vardan Vardanyan was denied parole after appealing a 2014 prison sentence for "hooliganism" during the November 2013 March of a Million Masks. The March - an anti-government protest - was reportedly organised by the opposition against the Eurasian Customs Union and devolved into clashes between protesters and police.The head of the Vanadzor office of the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, Arthur Sakunets, claims that the court's decision to deny Vardanyan - who  conditional release was "politically motivated". 

In a separate development on 19th January, protests organised by the opposition bloc Yelk (Way Out) took place over price increases.