On June 19 the head of a number of diplomatic missions accredited in Armenia, international and local journalistic organizations have addressed an open letter to the newly-elected Speaker of the RA National Assembly Arthur Baghdasarian. Copies of the letter were sent to the RA President Robert Kocharian, Prime Minister Andranik Margarian, Minister of Justice David Harutiunian, the senior officials of the law-and-order bodies and judicial authority, NA deputies, media.
The letter says:
“Dear Mr. Speaker,
As you are aware, a number of international organizations and NGOs, monitor the situation with regard to human rights protection in Armenia. The ratification by Armenia of the European Convention on Human Rights in April 2002 demonstrated an acceptance of the fundamental importance of respect for human rights, including freedom of expression, and a willingness to abide by the standards of the Convention.
It is in this context that we, the undersigned, would like to bring to your attention our concern with regard to a number of provisions in the new Criminal Code, which in our view seriously threaten freedom of expression in Armenia. (The Code was adopted by the National Assembly on April 18, 2003 and endorsed by the President on 30 April.)
Articles 135 and 136 of the mentioned document make libel and insult criminal charges, providing for up to 3 years of imprisonment among other types of punishment.
Article 318 of the Criminal Code provides a fine from 200-400 minimum salaries to up to 2 years imprisonment for an insult directed towards an official representative in the mass media, in publications or public speech. Thus, the Criminal Code ensures more protection for public officials than for ordinary citizens (for insult of the latter the punishment envisages a fine of 100-200 minimal salaries).
We would hope that you share our view that libel and insult should be decriminalized and that legal solutions should be found in the field of civil, not criminal, law. Or, at least, the Code should not provide for imprisonment.
In light of the above we, the undersigned, once again express our concern with regard to these specific articles of the newly adopted Criminal Code. It is our view that amendments need to be made to these articles in the Code and we stand ready to co-operate with the National Assembly in addressing this issue."
The open letter was signed by the head of OSCE Office in Yerevan (also on behalf of the Office of OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media), the heads of the embassies of the UK, Germany, the USA, Italy, Romania, Poland in Armenia, representatives of Eurasia Foundation, Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation-Armenia, Article 19, Armenian Representation Office of American Bar Association, Yerevan Press Club, Association of Investigative Journalists of Armenia, Internews Armenia, ProMedia, Media Law Institute, Caucasus Media Institute.