Press release March 26, 2021
Armenia: New Amendments Threaten to Stifle Media Freedom and Freedom of Expression
In response to the Armenian parliament’s approval of amendments that threaten to curtail media freedom and freedom of expression by significantly increasing fines for defamation and insult, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“It is the responsibility of the Armenian authorities to protect media freedom and free expression in the country,” said Marc Behrendt, director for Europe and Eurasia programs at Freedom House. “It is unfortunate that the Armenian government is supporting fines that will stifle free expression and threaten the financial viability of media outlets in the country. Civil society has rightly criticized the bill on grounds that it could be abused to levy excessive fines and apply political pressure against independent media organizations for criticizing politicians and other powerful public figures. We urge the Armenian authorities to take the concerns of civil society and media organizations seriously, and strike down this legislation.”
On March 24, 2021, the National Assembly of Armenia adopted the legislative draft “On Making Amendments to the RA Civil Legislation,” tripling the maximum penalties for insult and defamation to 3 and 6 million Armenian drams (approximately $5,700 and $11,400), respectively. The bill was adopted without taking into account the views of the Ministry of Justice or the Human Rights Defender’s Office, nor of the civil society and media organizations that expressed serious concerns about it. The Union of Journalists of Armenia has appealed to Armenia’s president not to sign the law, and to send it to the Constitutional Court for review.
Armenia decriminalized defamation and insult in 2010, following an appeal of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly to member states. The new amendments contradict the requirement to strike a fair balance between the freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and the right to reputation guaranteed by the convention’s Article 8. It also undermines the 2011 Decision No. 997 of the Constitutional Court of Armenia, urging the consideration of the financial situation of media outlets while setting fines in defamation and insult cases.
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