Civic activists and opposition members in Armenia consider the proposed amendment to the constitutional article on freedom of assembly to be an attempt by the authorities to eliminate the notion of “spontaneous” gatherings.
In contrast to the current article in Armenia’s set of basic laws that clearly establishes that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of peaceful and unarmed assembly”, some restrictions are proposed under the new amendments.
Thus, one of the changes calls for “notification” of outdoor assemblies “within a reasonable timeframe”.
Some leading law experts in Armenia also view this provision as potentially “dangerous”.
Ara Ghazarian, a specialist in international law, says that thus the new Constitution, in fact, leaves no room for so-called spontaneous rallies.
“If it is adopted in this form, in practice it could be interpreted that outdoor assemblies can be held only on condition of prior notification, and otherwise they may be deemed unconstitutional,” he says.
David Sanasarian, a leader of the Rise Armenia civic group currently campaigning against electricity price hikes, says that spontaneous assemblies have created problems for the Armenian authorities and they want to get rid of them.
“They want to be informed in advance so that they can visit citizens at their homes and create problems for them,” he says.
Armen Martirosian, of the opposition Heritage party, says he is concerned also by another article in the draft Constitution that deals with freedom of assembly, according to which the right to freedom of assembly may be restricted not only for the purpose of ensuring national security, public order and for preventing crime, but also for “protecting morality”.
“There is no ideal state in the world where moral norms would be also constitutional norms, because what is moral for me may be immoral for another person and vice versa,” he says.
The main criticism of Armenia’s leading opposition parties regarding the draft constitutional amendments that were unveiled by the reform committee earlier this month is that it purportedly attempts to “perpetuate” the power of the current ruling party by turning Armenia into a parliamentary republic.
Heritage, the Armenian National Congress as well as some other opposition parties insist that President Serzh Sarkisian, whom the current Armenian constitution bars from seeking a third presidential term, plans to secure his continued leadership in some other capacity after completing his tenure in 2018.
Last year Sarkisian pledged not to seek a top government post if the constitutional reform was carried out.