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Country in Focus: Armenia

Population GDP/Capita USD Capital City 2018 XpA Scores
2,952,000 4,212 Yerevan Freedom of Expression: 0.74
ICCPR ratified 1993 Armenia was an XpA Advancer over all four of our key time periods (2017-2018, 2015-2018, 2013-2018, 2008-2018). Civic Space: 0.78

Constitution of Armenia 1995 (revised 2015)

CHAPTER 2, ARTICLE 42, THE FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION OF OPINION

  1. Everyone shall have the right to freely express his opinion. This right shall include freedom to hold own opinions, as well as to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas by any means of information without interference by state or local self-government bodies and regardless of state frontiers.
  2. The freedom of the press, radio, television and other means of information shall be guaranteed. The state shall guarantee the activities of an independent public television and radio offering a diversity of informational, educational, cultural, and entertainment programs.
  3. The freedom of expression of opinion may be restricted only by law with the aim of protecting state security, the public order, health and morals, or honor and reputation of others, and other fundamental rights and freedoms.
Digital: 0.84
Media: 0.67
Protection: 0.78
Transparency: 0.77

 

Armenia saw a rise in its overall score, moving from the top of the 3rd quartile into the 2nd quartile in the space of one year. This should come as no surprise in a year in which a social movement created the ‘Velvet Revolution’ – a peaceful overthrow of power.

Figure 30:

A protest movement, supported by an experienced and prepared civil society, pressured a government not only to give up its leader but also instil the leader the public wanted – after decades of repression, the tightening grip of a party uninterested in human rights or justice, and worsening corruption and economic issues.

There is new hope for the environment for expression, but Armenia has a long way to go and a tough path to tread, including corruption, myriad human rights problems, impunity for law-enforcement abuses, violence and discrimination against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer (LGBTQ+) individuals, and even institutionalisation of people with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities.[1]

Peaceful change: the Velvet Revolution

The Republican Party was dominant in Armenia for two decades, and had been tightening its grip on power – from a flawed 2015 referendum, which increased prime ministerial powers, to accusations of vote rigging in the 2017 elections, which ensured the party’s continuation in power.[2]

Corruption and impunity had been worsening in recent years, as had the human rights situation in the country. Political persecution was common, civic space was under attack, and journalists were routinely attacked while doing their jobs.[3]

After serving the maximum two terms, then-President Serzh Sargsyan tried to stay in office by securing his party’s backing so he would be elected as Prime Minister. Armenians took to the streets, led by opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan. The ‘My Step’ protest marched from Armenia’s second city, Gyumri, to the capital, Yerevan, gathering momentum for huge protests on the streets of the capital in the run-up to the National Assembly meeting to elect the next Prime Minister on 17 April.

Sargsyan was confirmed as Prime Minister. Nikol Pashinyan led another protest, during which he was detained, along with other opposition leaders – but tens of thousands continued to protest, and, on 23 April, Sargsyan was forced to step down.[4]

On 1 May, the Republican Party blocked Nikol Pashinyan’s election and the people protested again; 150,000 took to Yerevan’s Republic Square, along with strikes and acts of non-violent civil disobedience that brought Armenia to a standstill.

On 8 May, Nikol Pashinyan was elected as Prime Minister. People continued to take to the streets, but now in support rather than resistance; rallies in August marked the new Prime Minister’s 100th day in office, and showed support for his work against corruption and towards judicial and police reform.[5]

The Republican Party still held a majority in the National Assembly and continued to block the reform agenda, so, in October, Pashinyan stepped down in order to trigger snap parliamentary elections in December 2018.[6] The opposition coalition won, giving them a mandate to push forward with their reform agenda.

At a meeting with the media in December, Pashinyan committed to upholding the freedom of expression.[7]

Civil society and media monitor and support change

Information was key in building momentum around the movement and keeping pressure on the establishment. This information also contested official disinformation around the events.[8]

While many did not broadcast the protests, a few independent outlets, such as Civilnet and Azatutyun, were able to continue steady in-depth reporting, including live streams and social media.

CSOs also played a crucial role, monitoring protests, reporting on violations, and raising awareness both inside and outside the country. During April’s uprising, human rights organisations ran a hotline giving legal advice to the movement’s participants, and undertook rapid-response work.

Civil society contributed to raising awareness and encouraging a demanding stance through years of engagement and education.[9]

Fighting impunity around protests

Armenia has a tradition of using excessive force against protest, and the April–May 2018 protests were no exception. On 16 April police used stun grenades, leaving 46 injured, including six policemen. Hundreds of protesters were arbitrarily arrested, including protest leader Pashinyan himself. During the protests, at least 16 journalists and media workers were attacked, largely by police.[10]

However, the new political establishment has begun to make progress on existing investigations into abuses, which had been stalled for years – including an investigation into deadly clashes between protesters and security forces that left ten dead in March 2008. The original investigation resulted in 52 protesters sent to prison. The renewed investigation resulted in charges against former high-level officials, including ex-President Robert Kocharyan, and two commanders, Michael Harutyunyan and Yuri Khachaturov. In July, authorities brought criminal charges against a policeman for abuse of office relating to violence against protesters in July 2016.[11]

Homophobia and attacks on activists outlive the old regime

In August, a crowd of around 30 pursued and attacked nine LGBTQ+ activists in a southern Armenian village, injuring six. Police questioned several of the attackers, but no one was charged.[12] CSO New Generation was forced to cancel an LGBTQ+ conference, planned for November, after controversy from both state and private actors.[13]

Attacks are common, and go unreported due to stigma and fear of discrimination when reporting to police. The new Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, is a supporter of LGBTQ+ rights, but numerous other public figures used homophobic language while commenting on the August attack.

 

 

[1] Human Rights Watch, World Report 2019, p41, available at https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019

[2] Civicus, 2019 State of Civil Society, available at https://www.civicus.org/index.php/state-of-civil-society-report-2019

[3] Civicus, 2019 State of Civil Society, available at https://www.civicus.org/index.php/state-of-civil-society-report-2019

[4] Human Rights Watch, World Report 2019, p41, available at https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019

[5] Civicus, 2019 State of Civil Society, available at https://www.civicus.org/index.php/state-of-civil-society-report-2019

[6] Civicus, 2019 State of Civil Society, available at https://www.civicus.org/index.php/state-of-civil-society-report-2019

[7] Civicus, 2019 State of Civil Society, available at https://www.civicus.org/index.php/state-of-civil-society-report-2019

[8] Freedom House, Freedom in the Media, 2019, available at https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-media/freedom-media-2019

[9] Civicus, 2019 State of Civil Society, available at https://www.civicus.org/index.php/state-of-civil-society-report-2019

[10] Reporters without Borders, Violence Against Reporters During 11 Days of Protests in Armenia, 25 April 2018, available at https://rsf.org/en/news/violence-against-reporters-during-11-days-protests-armenia

[11] Human Rights Watch, World Report 2019, p42, available at https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019

[12] Human Rights Watch, World Report 2019, p44, available at https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019

[13] Human Rights Watch, World Report 2019, p44, available at https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019

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