The numerical ratings and status listed above do not reflect conditions in Nagorno-Karabakh, which is examined in a separate report. Freedom in the World reports assess the level of political rights and civil liberties in a given geographical area, regardless of whether they are affected by the state, nonstate actors, or foreign powers. Disputed territories are sometimes assessed separately if they meet certain criteria, including boundaries that are sufficiently stable to allow year-on-year comparisons. For more information, see the report methodology and FAQ.
Armenia is in the midst of a significant transition following mass antigovernment protests and elections in 2018 that forced out an entrenched political elite. The new government has pledged to deal with long-standing problems including systemic corruption, opaque policymaking, a flawed electoral system, and weak rule of law.
- Nikol Pashinyan of the My Step alliance returned as prime minister in January, after winning a large majority in a late 2018 snap election.
- In May, former president Robert Kocharyan was put on trial for his alleged involvement in a violent crackdown against protests in 2018, which resulted in the deaths of at least 10 people.
- Prosecutors continued to investigate and charge several former officials of corruption and graft throughout the year. Former president Serzh Sargsyan, his brothers, and a former defense minister were among those targeted.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?
In late 2015, voters approved constitutional changes that, among other things, transformed the country from a semipresidential to a parliamentary republic. The president, who had been directly elected for up to two five-year terms, would henceforth be chosen by the parliament for a single seven-year term, and most executive power would shift to the prime minister, who would also be chosen by a parliamentary majority. The new system took effect in 2018, when Serzh Sargsyan completed his second consecutive presidential term. The parliament elected diplomat Armen Sarkissian as president; though Sargsyan pledged to refrain from extending his rule by seeking the premiership, the then ruling Republican Party (HHK) nevertheless nominated him and ushered him into the post. This prompted mass antigovernment protests and led to Sargsyan’s resignation after less than a week in office. Nikol Pashinyan, a deputy with the opposition Yelq Alliance who emerged as the leader of the demonstrations, sought and gained appointment as interim prime minister later in 2018.
Executive elections held before 2018 were dominated by the HHK, with incumbent elites benefiting from the abuse of administrative resources and severe limitations imposed on opposition candidates. However, Pashinyan and his new My Step Alliance swept the December 2018 parliamentary elections, which were markedly freer and fairer than elections in previous years, and took office in January 2019.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
The National Assembly consists of a minimum of 101 members elected for five-year terms through a combination of national and district-based proportional representation. Up to four additional seats are reserved for ethnic minority representatives, and further seats can be added to ensure that opposition parties hold at least 30 percent of the seats.
Pashinyan announced his resignation as prime minister in October 2018 in order to trigger snap parliamentary elections that December. Preliminary reports by local and international observers noted that the elections were credible. Reports by local and international observers noted that the elections were credible. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) found that “the general absence of electoral malfeasance, including of vote-buying and pressure on voters, allowed for genuine competition.” The My Step Alliance won 70 percent of the vote and was allotted 88 seats, including the four ethnic minority mandates. Prosperous Armenia, headed by wealthy businessman Gagik Tsarukyan, took 8 percent and 26 seats, while Bright Armenia, a small liberal party that had been part of the Yelq Alliance, took 6 percent and 18 seats. The HHK failed to cross the 5 percent threshold for representation.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?
Members of Central Election Commission (CEC) are recommended and then confirmed by the National Assembly for six-year terms. In the past, the CEC was generally subservient to the HHK, and showed reluctance to investigate alleged electoral violations by the party. This resulted in a low level of public trust in the electoral process and the CEC. However, the commission reportedly exhibited more professional conduct during the 2018 snap election, making preparations on a shortened timeline, conducting voter education campaigns, and handling voter rolls, candidate registration, and publication of results in a transparent manner.
Critics of Armenia’s preexisting electoral code argued that its complex system for voting and seat allocation gave an undue advantage to the HHK and affiliated business magnates. In September 2019, a parliamentary working group was formed to consider major reforms to the country’s electoral system; its work was continuing at year’s end.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?
The HHK’s political dominance and control of administrative resources has historically prevented a level playing field among the country’s many competing parties. However, the protest movement that forced Sargsyan from office also increased pressure on the HHK to refrain from interfering in party activities, giving opposition groups significantly more freedom to operate ahead of the 2018 election. Political parties operated in a freer environment in 2019.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?
The HHK had been the main ruling party since 1999, and opposition groups had little chance of winning power in the flawed elections before 2018. However, that year’s election transformed the political landscape, leaving the HHK with no parliamentary representation and paving the way for My Step to form the government. In 2018, opposition parties also defeated the HHK in municipal elections that it had long dominated, including in the capital city of Yerevan. The ruling party and two largest opposition groups subsequently declined to field candidates for September 2019’s municipal elections, allowing current and former HHK members to retain the mayoralties of five villages.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?
The HHK and its allies historically used vote buying, voter intimidation, and the abuse of administrative resources to distort the popular will, but the parliament adopted legislation that criminalized various acts related to vote buying in 2018. That year’s snap election and local elections in 2018 and 2019 saw a decline in these practices.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?
A system introduced as part of the 2015 constitutional reforms mandates the inclusion of up to four members of parliament representing ethnic minorities. However, the four representatives are required to be elected on a party list. In 2018, My Step won all four minority seats, representing ethnic Russians, Yazidis, Assyrians, and Kurds.
No openly LGBT+ people have run in elections or been appointed to a public office in Armenia. Women remain underrepresented in politics and government, and most parties do little to address women’s interests aside from meeting the 25 percent gender quota on candidate lists. Despite his praise of women’s involvement in the 2018 protests, Pashinyan included only one woman, labor and social affairs minister Zaruhi Batovan, in the cabinet in 2019. Armenia’s first female mayor was elected in 2018.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?
Through its significant majority, gained in a free and fair election, My Step controlled parliamentary decision-making throughout the year. The HHK previously dominated policymaking, but it gained this power through a series of deeply flawed elections.
So-called oligarchs, or wealthy businessmen who have close relationships with the HHK government, can still exert undue influence over policymaking. Russia also wields significant influence in Armenia, and its strategic priorities have prompted some significant policy changes in the past. However, Russia refrained from interfering with the 2018 antigovernment demonstrations and the transfer of power, and the Pashinyan government has subsequently worked to maintain close ties.
Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 2 because the freely elected My Step government took office in early 2019 and was able to control policymaking throughout the year.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?
Armenia lacks effective safeguards against corruption. Relationships between politicians, public servants, and oligarchs have historically influenced policy and contributed to selective application of the law. The HHK government included some of Armenia’s wealthiest business leaders, who continued private entrepreneurial activities despite conflicts of interest.
Law enforcement agencies initiated high profile investigations when Pashinyan took office, and those activities continued in 2019. In April, prosecutors brought corruption charges against Mihran Poghosyan, accusing him of abusing his power as the head of a court enforcement agency to enrich himself and businesses linked to him. Poghosyan sought asylum in Russia to avoid extradition, and Russian authorities were still considering his request at year’s end. In September, former defense minister Vigen Sargsyan was charged with abuse of power for personally allocating publicly funded housing to soldiers and their families, ignoring a preexisting defense ministry process. These charges were abruptly dropped several weeks later, however.
Former president Sargsyan and his brothers were also targeted by investigators and prosecutors in 2019. Aleksandr Sargsyan was accused of fraud in February, but avoided prosecution by transferring $30 million to the state. In September, Levon Sargsyan was accused of enriching himself and business allies by interfering in a highway reconstruction project; Sargsyan fled Armenia in 2018 after he was accused of holding undeclared assets in an Armenian bank. The former president was himself charged with theft of state money in December; prosecutors claimed he interfered in a bidding process for a government fuel contract, but did not explain how he profited from this activity.
The My Step government has also taken early steps to strengthen the country’s anticorruption mechanisms. In October 2019, it published a three-year action plan that specified the creation of a new Anti-Corruption Committee (ACC) by 2021. The government also vowed to strengthen the existing Commission on Preventing Corruption (CPC).
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?
Transparency has historically been limited, and enforcement of asset-declaration rules for public officials has been weak, though some legal improvements have been enacted in recent years. The Pashinyan government has worked to give citizens greater access to information, speaking more frequently to the press and the general population, including through live video streaming on social media.
|Are there free and independent media?
Independent and investigative outlets operate relatively freely in Armenia, but their work is generally found online. Small independent outlets provided robust coverage of the 2018 protests, challenging the narratives of state broadcasters and other establishment media. By comparison, most print and broadcast outlets are affiliated with political or larger commercial interests.
While several reporters were injured by police during the 2018 election campaign, violence against journalists declined in 2019 according to the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression (CPFE), an Armenian nongovernmental organization (NGO). However, the CPFE also reported a rising prevalence of lawsuits targeting journalists; 96 were filed in 2019, most of them involving accusations of slander or insult.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?
Article 18 of the constitution recognizes the Armenian Apostolic Church as a “national church” responsible for the preservation of Armenian national identity. Religious minorities report discrimination, and some have faced difficulty obtaining permits to build houses of worship. The country’s Yazidi religious minority had no houses of worship until October 2019, when a temple opened in the village of Ankalich.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?
Although the constitution protects academic freedom, government officials hold several board positions at state universities, leaving administrative and accreditation processes open to political influence. There is some self-censorship among academics on politically sensitive subjects.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?
Private discussion is relatively free and vibrant. The law prohibits wiretapping or other electronic surveillance without judicial approval, though the judiciary lacks independence and has been accused of excessive deference to law enforcement agencies requesting consent.
In April 2019, Prime Minister Pashinyan ordered the National Security Service (NSS), Armenia’s intelligence agency, to crack down on social media users who spread “fake news” about the government. Opposition parties and the country’s human rights ombudsman criticized the order, warning it risked freedom of expression. That same month, the NSS arrested an unnamed social media user who ran a Facebook page that criticized Pashinyan, and accused them of inciting “ethnic, racial, or religious hatred.”
|Is there freedom of assembly?
The right to free assembly is legally guaranteed but inconsistently upheld in practice. In 2018, mass antigovernment demonstrations were organized across the country under the slogan Reject Serzh, aiming to stop the outgoing president from governing as prime minister. Despite some violent interference by police and the temporary detention of hundreds of protesters, the demonstrations encountered fewer obstacles than in the past. Conditions continued to improve in 2019, with fewer and smaller instances of police interference than in previous years.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?
Outspoken NGOs operate in Armenia, with most of them based in Yerevan. These NGOs lack significant local funding and often rely on foreign donors. Despite this impediment, civil society was active in the 2018 protests, and in subsequent consultations with the government on policy matters in 2019, most notably on electoral reform. The European Union (EU) also noted that Armenian NGOs were making significant progress in bolstering their organizational capacity in a May 2019 report.
Score Change: The score changed from 2 to 3 because Armenian NGOs operated with less interference from the authorities, and because they have become active participants in government-led reform efforts in 2019.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?
The law protects the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, strike, and engage in collective bargaining. However, these protections are not well enforced, and employers are generally able to block union activity in practice.
|Is there an independent judiciary?
The courts face systemic political influence, and judicial institutions are undermined by corruption. Judges reportedly feel pressure to work with prosecutors to convict defendants, and acquittal rates are extremely low. In response, the government announced a plan to give the CPC more power to investigate and discipline judges accused of corruption. It also published a five-year strategy devoted to judicial reform in October 2019.
The government was also embroiled in a conflict over Constitutional Court chair Hrayr Tovmasyan in 2019. In June, newly appointed justice Vahe Grigoryan–a government ally–unsuccessfully attempted to claim the chair by using a legislative technicality. In October, the government attempted to strip Tovmasyan’s powers, saying his HHK affiliation made him incapable of hearing the case of former president Robert Kocharyan. Kocharyan was on trial for his alleged role in fatal clashes between protesters and police during the 2008 presidential campaign. In December, prosecutors charged Tovmasyan with abuse of power, saying he personally profited from the rental of offices when he served as justice minister.
The trial against Kocharyan, which began in May 2019, was another point of controversy for the judiciary. The presiding judge ordered Kocharyan’s release that month, questioning the legality of the charges; prosecutors and the government condemned the ruling, which was overturned in June. Another judge who was assigned to preside over the case was harassed by two of Kocharyan’s supporters in Yerevan in September. The trial was still in session at year’s end.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?
Authorities apply the law selectively, and due process is not guaranteed in civil or criminal cases. Lengthy pretrial detention remains a problem, and judges are generally reluctant to challenge arbitrary arrests. Pashinyan was among those who were subjected to arbitrary detention during the antigovernment protests in 2018.
The raft of corruption investigations aimed at HHK elites and allies in 2019 prompted concerns about the ability of the country’s judicial and investigative mechanisms to ensure fair application of the law.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?
Reports of police abuse of detainees and poor conditions in prisons persist. After the change in government in 2018, law enforcement agencies renewed dormant investigations into past cases of physical violence by police. Former president Kocharyan was controversially charged that year with attempting to overthrow the constitutional order over his involvement in the fatal clashes of 2008.
Areas adjacent to Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian-majority territory that gained de facto independence from Azerbaijan following the breakup of the Soviet Union, remained tense in 2019, with a lingering risk of shelling and skirmishes across the line of contact.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?
Rights watchdogs have criticized the government for discriminating against asylum seekers who are not of ethnic Armenian origin. Although same-sex sexual activity was decriminalized in 2003, LGBT+ people continue to face violence and mistreatment at the hands of police and civilians, and no antidiscrimination legislation exists to benefit this group. In April 2019, Lilit Martirosyan, the first openly transgender woman to address the National Assembly, discussed the widespread violence directed at Armenia’s transgender community; she was immediately denounced by the chair of the legislature’s human rights committee and received death threats after her speech. Women reportedly face discrimination in employment and education, despite legal protections.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?
The law protects freedom of movement and the rights of individuals to change their place of residence, employment, and education. In practice, access to higher education is somewhat hampered by a culture of bribery. The continued deadlock with Azerbaijan over the fate of Nagorno-Karabakh constrains freedom of movement along some border areas.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?
Economic diversification and simpler regulations have increased the ease of doing business in recent years, but a lack of transparency and persistent cronyism continue to create unfair advantages for those with ties to public officials. Armenian law adequately protects property rights, though officials do not always uphold them.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?
The constitution defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Domestic violence is common and not adequately prosecuted, and services for victims are inadequate. A new law on domestic violence that took effect in 2018 placed an emphasis on “restoring family harmony,” raising concerns that it would deter victims from leaving dangerous situations. In October 2019, the government introduced amendments to remove that reference and expand the definition of what constituted domestic violence; these reforms remained unadopted at year’s end, however.
The HHK government signed the Istanbul Convention, a Council of Europe document that binds participating countries to bolster their efforts to combat violence against women, in 2018. The Pashinyan government attempted to ratify it in 2019, but the Apostolic Church publicly opposed the effort in July. While the Venice Commission, an advisory body to the Council of Europe, advised that the convention would not conflict with existing Armenian law in October, the convention remained unratified at the end of the year.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?
Legal protections against exploitative or dangerous working conditions are poorly enforced, and about half of workers are employed in the informal sector, where they may be more exposed to such conditions. Armenians are subjected to sex and labor trafficking abroad, and some children in the country work in agriculture and other sectors. According to the US State Department, the government has made efforts to address trafficking in persons in recent years, in part by raising awareness of the problem and training law enforcement authorities, but it has done little to identify victims proactively, and the number of successful prosecutions remains small.
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Global Freedom Score54 100 partly free
Internet Freedom Score72 100 free