11 October 2021, Yerevan
On October 5, 2021 the RA Constitutional Court made a decision, according to which the Law “On Amendments to the RA Civil Code” adopted by the parliament on March 24, 2021 was recognized in line with the Constitution. Thus, the upper threshold of damages award envisaged for insult will increase from previous 1 million to 3 million drams, and in case of defamation, it will become 6 million drams instead of 2 million.
Let us recall that the law was authored by the current NA Speaker Alen Simonyan when he was still the NA Deputy Speaker. During its circulation as a draft, it was rightly criticized not only by the undersigned organizations, but also by the wider journalistic community and international organizations (Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders, etc.). In particular, we have made a number of statements on the matter, and in the last one issued on the day the law was adopted, we urged the RA President not to sign the law and to forward it to the Constitutional Court to verify its compliance with the Constitution. And so he did.
However, the decision of the Constitutional Court causes not only disappointment and bewilderment, but also resentment. It does not take into consideration the recommendations of the Council of Europe and the requirements of a number of precedent decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. Moreover, this document adopted by the Constitutional Court clearly contradicts several provisions and the general spirit of the November 15, 2011 Decision No. 997 of the same court. Thus, 10 years ago, claiming that the financial situation of the media should be taken into account when awarding compensation for insult and slander in publications so that the liability does not lead to their bankruptcy, today the very court (although in a different composition), in fact, approves a law that stipulates a threefold increase in the upper threshold of damages award for insult and defamation. It is clear that this could become a signal for the courts to confiscate more money in such cases than is common practice today.
We, the undersigned organizations, reaffirm that we absolutely do not aim to defend offenders and slanderers, however, we insist that the use of disproportionately strict approaches is more likely to do harm to freedom of speech than to serve the fight against flaws. Especially as we consider that politicians, officials and representatives of various segments of the society often perceive criticism against themselves as defamation or insult and go to court. This may create serious obstacles to the free operation of media, encourage and increase the flow of lawsuits against journalists and media.
The adoption of this law is particularly alarming in the context of the disproportionate tightening of media regulations and the new restrictions applied. The criminalization of the so-called “grave insults” and the increased protection of public and state actors, as well as several other groups through that measure, as well as the initiatives on a ban on citing unidentifiable information sources, not publishing data on officials’ business trips and related expenses, purchases from a single vendor, etc. are part of that regressive process.
Recognizing that the entire state system was in fact unable to protect the media from unfounded and disproportionate restrictions and legal pressures, we demand:
– the National Assembly to review the entire legislative framework related to the activities of the media, to repeal the recently adopted laws contradicting the international norms and to refuse the adoption of similar bills in circulation, and after that to initiate open professional discussions to develop a concept of legal regulations in the media field;
– the RA President, the Constitutional Court, all political forces to contribute to the process of creating an enabling legal framework for the activities of the media and to actively oppose regressive legislative initiatives;
– the international organizations to discuss the issue of the adoption of media related laws by the RA Parliament in neglect of the international norms in that process, as well as to take measures to rectify the situation.
COMMITTEE TO PROTECT FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
YEREVAN PRESS CLUB
MEDIA INITIATIVES CENTER
JOURNALISTS’ CLUB “ASPAREZ”
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION CENTER
MEDIA DIVERSITY INSTITUTE-ARMENIA
PUBLIC JOURNALISM CLUB
“JOURNALISTS FOR THE FUTURE” NGO
“JOURNALISTS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS” NGO
GORIS PRESS CLUB