Armenia’s government generally respects Internet freedom, with a growing number of domestic users having access to a “wide array” of news sources and other online content, the U.S.-based group Freedom House said on Wednesday.
In its latest “Freedom on the Net” report, the respected watchdog documented a decline in overall Internet freedom around the world for the fifth year in a row. It said that authorities in most of the 65 countries assessed in the report have restricted Web content and even imprisoned people for sharing information concerning politics, religion, or society through digital networks.
Armenia is bucking the global trend, according to Freedom House. “The Armenian government does not consistently or pervasively block users’ access to content online,” concludes its report.
“The most common incidents of censorship of online content relate to blocking and filtering of platforms and websites by the Russian regulatory authority, which affects access to the same content for some internet users in Armenia, since Armenia receives its web traffic from Russia. However, these cases are promptly resolved by internet service providers once reported by users,” it says.
“Indeed, there is a wide diversity of opinion in social media, and virtual battles between supporters and opponents of the government are often observed. A variety of independent and opposition web resources provide Armenian internet audiences with politically neutral or oppositional opinions,” it adds.
The report cautions at the same time that just like their colleagues working for broadcast and print media, Armenian online journalists are susceptible to “financial and political pressures” from partisan owners of their publications.
With Internet connection becoming faster, cheaper and more and more popular, dozens of online news services controlled by pro-government, opposition or independent figures have sprung up in the country over the past decade. They now form a significant segment of the Armenian media, posing a growing threat to the dominance of the local TV stations, almost all of them loyal to President Serzh Sarkisian.
Online and social media have also been heavily used in recent years by Armenian civic groups challenging various unpopular decisions taken by the government. “Freedom on the Net” notes this fact, singling out the recent “Electric Yerevan” movement that forced the government to effectively reverse a surge in electricity prices.
“There have been no reports of restrictions on internet access imposed by the government or temporary disconnections from the internet since June 2014,” the report goes on. “In practice, the Armenian government and the telecommunication regulatory authority do not interfere with or try to influence the planning of network topology.”
Citing estimates by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Freedom House pointed out in this regard that Internet penetration rate in Armenia reached 46 percent by the end of 2014, compared with 42 percent in 2013 and just 15 percent in 2009. “According to official information from mobile operators, 3G services are available to almost 100 percent of the population, covering 90 percent of the country,” it said.