On June 21 the First Vice Speaker of the RA National Assembly Tigran Torosian expressed his discontent by the open letter addressed on June 19 to the RA NA Speaker Arthur Baghdasarian. The address, signed by the heads of six diplomatic missions in Armenia and eleven international organizations and local journalist associations, including Yerevan Press Club, contains an appeal to introduce amendments to the RA Criminal Code and abolish the provisions of criminal charges for the libel and insult (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, June 13-19, 2003).
"No one has the right to force Armenia’s parliament to take a particular decision or amend laws", the Vice Speaker announced in the interview to Radio Liberty. In his opinion, the letter amounts to meddling in the internal affairs of Armenia and is "incompatible with a diplomatic status" of its signatories. The Vice Speaker specifically blamed one of the initiators of the open letter, the Head of OSCE Office in Yerevan Roy Reeve, who was accused of "repeatedly treating our country disrespectfully". And while the Vice Chairman of the Republican Party of Armenia (a part of the tri-party ruling coalition) Tigran Torosian is against jailing journalists, he at the same time believes that the civil legislation "often does potential consequences" for publishing untrue media reports.
On June 23 in an interview to the Public Television of Armenia the Head of OSCE Mission, Ambassador Roy Reeve noted that the opinion expressed in the address is not obligatory for Armenia and that the Armenian parliament has a right to act at its own discretion. At the same time Mr. Ambassador reminded that, according to the OSCE principles, the punishment for libel must be considered in the civil and not criminal legislation context and the frequency of the country’s citizens addressing the European Court of Human Rights may depend on Armenia complying with this norm.
On June 25 at the meeting of Roy Reeve with the RA NA Speaker Arthur Baghdasarian the latter confirmed the necessity to reform the Criminal Code of the country, in particular, the unacceptability of stipulating different punishments for the insult and libel of officials and average citizens. The Speaker informed that currently the experience of various countries and international structures is studied to ensure the accordance with the Criminal Code in force with the European standards.
Thus, the NA Chairman and his deputy actually voiced contrary viewpoints. It is possible that Arthur Baghdasarian decided to milden Tigran Torosian’s harshness, using the old but effective game of "good cop – bad cop". It is also probable that the opposing attitudes are a consequence of inner political controversies between the Republican Party of Armenia and "Orinats Yerkir" party that has rapidly gained weight after the success at the parliamentary elections (also a member of the ruling coalition), led by the Speaker.
Anyhow, the time will show how prepared the new parliament is to the realization of its promises of democratization of the country, one of the main components of which is the freedom of expression. One of the signatories of the open letter, Yerevan Press Club, is consistently speaking against the criminal prosecution of journalists and media for libel. We will continue our efforts.