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By Gevorg Stamboltsian in Prague and Emil Danielyan
The United States on Tuesday welcomed the Armenian parliament’s rejection of a government bill severely restricting the work of the U.S.-funded RFE/RL’s Armenian service.

"We are pleased that there will now be more time for civil society to engage with Armenian lawmakers on this issue," Tom Mittnacht, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan, told RFE/RL after the vote. "We appreciate the substantive and active dialogue we have had with the speaker of the assembly.”

“We are happy that Radio Liberty will be able to continue broadcasting,” he said.

The U.S. State Department criticized on Monday the bill as an attempt to curtail freedom of the media in Armenia. “We view negatively any attempt to limit the freedom of press in Armenia or any other country,” the department said in a statement on Monday, presenting its official position on the draft amendments that would have blocked retransmission of foreign broadcasts by Armenian TV and radio stations.

“We fail to see how any such proposed legislation would further the Armenian Government’s stated desire for continued democratization, particularly in the wake of the May parliamentary elections that marked a step forward even as they reflected the need for further improvements toward democratic standards,” the statement said. “In particular, we would be deeply concerned about any legislation that would restrict the abilities of Radio Liberty to broadcast in Armenia.”

The U.S. charge d’affaires in Yerevan, Anthony Godfrey, raised these concerns in separate meetings with Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian and parliament speaker Tigran Torosian late last week. He indicated afterwards that Washington is unconvinced by their assurances that the proposed retransmission ban would not extend to RFE/RL. Godfrey also warned that the ban would call into question the release of $235 million in U.S. economic assistance to Armenia under the Millennium Challenge Account program.

The State Department criticism followed similar concerns expressed by senior officials from the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Like the U.S., they regard RFE/RL’s Armenian-language news programs as a key source of objective information in a country where practically all local broadcasters are directly or indirectly controlled by the government.

(Photolur photo: Anthony Godfrey.)
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