On June 9 the National Assembly of Armenia passed in the second hearing and finally the draft law of amendments and additions to the RA Criminal Code. The first hearing of the document was held on April 27. The draft amendments to the Criminal Code were initiated by the Government and presented at the parliament session of June 7-9 by the RA Minister of Justice David Harutiunian.
The amendments approved by the RA NA refer also to the provisions on libel and insult (Articles 135, 136 and 318). Thus, the maximal punishment for libel is a fine of 300-1000 minimal wages or imprisonment for up to one year (previously – up to three years). The maximal punishment for insult is a fine of 200-800 minimal wages, and the new edition of the Criminal Code stipulates no imprisonment in this case (previously up to one year). The maximal sanction for insult of authority representative is defined to be a fine of 300-1000 minimal wages or imprisonment for up to a year (previously – up to two years).
From Articles above clauses for a stricter punishment for libel/insult made in public speeches, publicly demonstrated works or media are removed, too.
Meanwhile, as far back as on June 17, 2003, in the open letter to NA Speaker Arthur Baghdasarian the heads of six diplomatic missions active in Armenia, eleven international organizations and local journalistic associations, including Yerevan Press Club, expressed concern with regard to a number of provisions in the Criminal Code, which “seriously threaten freedom of expression in Armenia”. In the opinion of the signatories, the solution of this issue “should be found in the field of civil, not criminal, law”, or, at least, “the Code should not provide for imprisonment.” The need to decriminalize libel and insult was also pointed out later, on local and international levels.
Thus, the amendments to the Criminal Code adopted significantly milder the responsibility for libel and insult, however, do not fully comply with the expectations of the international organizations and the civil society. The provision, ensuring greater protection of officials versus common citizens is also unacceptable.