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NGO ACTIVISTS SLAM ‘REGRESSION IN FREE SPEECH’


By Karine Kalantarian
Armenia’s three leading human rights groups on Wednesday voiced their concerns over Armenia rolling back free speech and claimed ‘lack of human rights protection’ in the country.

“Freedom of speech is the main locomotive of rights and liberties,” Armenia Helsinki Committee Chairman Avetik Ishkhanian said, adding that Armenia has in fact shown regress in terms of freedom of speech in the past five years.

“I think the year 2002 when A1 Plus television was taken off the air was a watershed, after which all television companies have been under tight scrutiny,” Ishkhanian said. “I think that we have registered regress in many spheres related to human rights and democracy.”

According to Ishkhanian, in the latest three-color map published by Freedom House, Armenia is painted in purple, meaning that the country lacks freedom of speech.

Amalia Kostanian, who heads the Armenian affiliate of Transparency International, a Berlin-based international anti-graft watchdog, warned that Armenia is only a step away from slipping back into complete authoritarianism.

“It is already several years that Armenia has been considered a semi-consolidated authoritarian regime in terms of its government, political and civil freedoms. It means that we are a step away from an outright authoritarian regime,” she said.

Artur Sakunts, head of the Vanadzor-based regional branch of the Armenian Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, voiced concern over poor crime detection in the Armenian military.

“Crimes committed in the army cannot be detected as long as [Armenia’s] armed forces are outside control and constitute the main guarantee for the regime to retain its political and economic power,” he charged.

The activists say they aired these and other concerns related to the human rights situation in Armenia during their recent meeting with the visiting Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg. The Council of Europe official has been on a five-day fact-finding mission to Armenia since Sunday to assess a broad spectrum of issues related to human rights, in particular the country’s judicial system and corruption risks in it, as well as freedom of speech, trafficking, the rights of vulnerable social and economic groups, etc. He is due to report on the human rights situation in Armenia to the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers early next year.
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