On July 1 the answer of the Department of Public Relations of the RA National Assembly to the open letter to NA Speaker Arthur Baghdasarian of June 17 was publicized. As it has been reported, the address signed by the heads of six diplomatic missions accredited in the country, eleven international organizations and local journalistic associations, including Yerevan Press Club, contained an appeal to amend the RA Criminal Code and abolish the provisions of criminal prosecution for libel and insult (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, June 13-19, 2003). The Chairman of the NA and Vice Speaker Tigran Torosian this letter caused controversial response. Unlike the latter, who qualify the address as an intervention into the inner affairs of Armenia, Arthur Baghdasarian was more reticent, saying the experience of different countries in the sphere will be studied (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, June 20-27, 2003).
As the further events showed the experience was studied in the shortest time possible. According to the response of the RA National Assembly, the expert study of the legislation, conducted by the commission of the Speaker, showed that in some countries (such as Spain, Germany, Serbia, Slovenia, Denmark, Poland, etc.) the libel and the insult are regulated by the Criminal Code, stipulating imprisonment. The research also quoted the duration of imprisonment. The response also listed the countries where the regulation was implemented by both civil and criminal legislation (Russian Federation, Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary and others) or with civil legislation only (Norway, the United Kingdom, Bosnia and Herzegovina).
"Of course, no law can be considered perfect and final and is to be reformed; in this regard the interested and concerned attitude of us all to the law is gratifying. In this specific case the open address became a pretext for studying the international experience in the sphere", the RA NA response concluded.
On July 2 the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Freimut Duve addressed a letter to the RA Minister of Foreign Affairs Vardan Oskanian. The letter, a copy of which was addressed to the Speaker of the parliament, noted that the OSCE Representative has been closely following the debate regarding the libel in Armenia and the events, related to the open letter addressed to the Speaker of Armenian parliament. He is also aware of the survey implemented by the RA NA and of the findings among them the fact that the criminal libel is still in existence in several OSCE participating countries. "On several occasions I have stated my position on this matter, I have spoken at length on criminal libel at the OSCE and in other forums. Let me reiterate: the position of the OSCE institution is that libel should be decriminalized and dealt with under the civil code of the country concerned", Freimut Duve’s letter noted. The existence of these provisions in the legislation, the letter said, has over the years hampered the work of the media, putting undue pressure on journalists who investigate such issues as corruption, especially involving government officials. They are also often used to protect high-ranking civil servants and politicians from criticism.
The letter stressed that although the criminal libel and insult legislation are still a part of criminal code in several Western European countries, it is rarely if ever used. However, its mere existence is often referred to by those OSCE participating states among the developing democracies that impose incarceration for libel. "That is why I insist on complete decriminalization of libel in all the OSCE participating states, be it to the East or West of Vienna. Armenia is not an exception", Freimut Duve announced.