CSOs fault new regulations, journalists harassed despite improvement in media freedom

Association

CSOs express concern over new regulations

In early January 2020, the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly-Vanadzor raised concerns about the Draft Law “On making amendments and addenda to the Law on Non-Governmental Organisations” which was approved by government in December 2019. They were particularly opposed to the requirement in the draft law that all NGOs make their activity public and submit a separate report to the State Revenue Committee providing details of the staff and volunteers of their organisations, money received and expended, as well as the state and purpose of previous and current projects. According to the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly-Vanadzor, the requirement to submit reports to the State Revenue Committee constitutes unnecessary interference by the state in the CSOs’ activities, and NGOs should be free to decide how much information about their work they should share with the public. They also faulted the appointment of the State Revenue Committee as the state agency in charge of receiving the NGO reports, claiming it was unclear why this particular agency had been chosen to discharge that mandate.

Members of Parliament discuss creation of the Civil Society Platform

On 30th January 2020, the National Assembly Standing Committee on European Integration held an extraordinary meeting to discuss the creation of the Civil Society Platform. This platform is part of the road map for implementing the Armenia-EU Comprehensive and Advanced Partnership Agreement. The agreement recognises that civil society is an important partner to government and must therefore be actively involved in the process of debating laws, strategies and public policies. According to Parliament's press release, the Civil Society Platform will facilitate meetings and exchange of opinions and will be comprised of three representatives from the Civil Society of the European Union, three members from the European Economic and Social Affairs Committee and representatives of Civil Society organisations and networks of the Republic of Armenia, including the National Platforms of the Eastern Partnership (four persons). The total number of members of the Platform will be ten.

Expression

Harassment of journalists on the rise

In February 2020, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) expressed concern about the increased intimidation and harassment of journalists despite significant improvements in media freedom that were made in the country after the 2018 revolution. They particularly drew attention to increased judicial harassment through defamation lawsuits and threats to the right to protect their sources.

In one of the latest cases, Sona Harutyunyan, a journalist working for the news website 1in.am. was sued by the pro-opposition news website News.am for suggesting in a Facebook post that News.am was owned by former President Robert Kocharyan. Harutyunyan had to post a retraction on Facebook on 31st January after the appeals court ruled that she should have “quoted her source” and “verified the facts” even though the post was an expression of her opinion.

Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF's Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, said

“We are disturbed by the tendency for Armenian media to be sued or prosecuted. The judicial system is being manipulated for partisan purposes to bring abusive legal proceedings designed to gag and obstruct media by forcing them to dedicate a lot of resources to defending themselves. To avoid criminalising journalism, we urge the authorities to promote the use of existing non-judicial solutions to settle disputes.”

RSF also drew attention to other cases of intimidation of media representatives, insisting that Sona Harutyunyan's case is not the only one.