By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian promised to amend Armenia’s new Criminal Code on Wednesday following strong Western criticism of its provisions allowing the imprisonment of journalists and other individuals convicted of libel.
The move followed an extraordinary open letter by senior Western diplomats in Yerevan who warned that the clauses “seriously threaten freedom of expression” in the country. It was discussed at a meeting between Baghdasarian and Ambassador Roy Reeve, the head of the Yerevan office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and one of the initiators of the letters.
Baghdasarian, according to his press office, promised major amendments to the code that will be based on the experience of European nations. Reeve confirmed the information.
“We discussed the letter which we had sent,” he told RFE/RL after the meeting. “We have now agreed on future work on looking at those particular articles in the criminal code. So I’m sort of happy that we have now got a way forward to review it.”
“At least, the response was positive, and I’m encouraged by that,” the OSCE official added.
Baghdasarian was quoted as deploring an article of the code that calls for a much more severe punishment for publicly expressed insults of government officials, than for ones addressed to ordinary people. The OSCE insists that all Armenian citizens be treated equally.
“That’s not found anywhere in European legislation,” Reeve argued.
It remained unclear, however, whether Baghdasarian supports a decriminalization of libel demanded by the OSCE and some local journalist associations whose chairmen also signed the letter. The code, adopted as recently as last April, makes libel a criminal offence punishable by up to 3 years in prison. The signatories of the letter believe that the issue must be regulated by civil, not criminal law as is the case in the great majority of European states.
Reeve on Wednesday declined to comment on claims by one of Baghdasarian’s two deputies, Tigran Torosian, that Western diplomats are meddling in Armenia’s internal affairs. Speaking to RFE/RL over the weekend, Torosian specifically attacked the British diplomat for “treating our country disrespectfully.”