The international community has called on Armenia’s authorities to lift a state of emergency and the resulting severe restrictions on media freedom that were imposed following the violent confrontation between security forces and opposition supporters in Yerevan.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said late Monday that he is “deeply concerned about the violent clashes" over the weekend, which left at least eight people dead, and hopes that they will be “thoroughly investigated.” According to AFP news agency, Ban appealed to Armenian authorities "to take all necessary steps to ensure a return to normalcy, including
through a speedy lifting of the state of emergency."
"I urge the Armenian government to lift the state of emergency declared on March 1," European Union External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said in a separate statement.
"I also call on the Armenian authorities to lift any restrictions on free movement for former presidential candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian and to release any citizens detained for exercising their right to peaceful assembly," she said, according to AFP.
The statement came as the EU’s special envoy to the South Caucasus, met in Yerevan with President Robert Kocharian, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian and Ter-Petrosian to discuss ways of resolving Armenia’s most serious political crisis in nearly a decade. “We hope that full media freedoms will be restored soon and that the state of emergency can be lifted,” Semneby told RFE/RL on Tuesday.
“It goes without saying that a dialogue involving society in broader terms can not take place without the active and extremely important role of the media,” he said.
The 20-day emergency rule means that media outlets have to cite only official sources when reporting on national politics. Seven leading Armenian newspapers, which are either independent or opposition-linked, have refused to operate in such conditions and suspended their publication as a result. Also, the authorities have suspended retransmission of the daily Armenian-language broadcasts of RFE/RL.
By contrast, all major Armenian TV and radio stations loyal to the authorities remain on air. Their news coverage has been reduced to presentation of government press releases and police reports.
“We’re alarmed by this blatant attempt to censor news of the disputed election,” Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement. “We call on Armenian authorities to withdraw the ban on independent newsgathering and dissemination, and restore access to independent and opposition media.”
Also expressing concern was another New York-based watchdog, Freedom House. Paula Schriefer, Freedom House’s director of advocacy, said the state of emergency is “excessive and unnecessary” and should be lifted “as soon as possible.”
A similar call was made on Monday by a senior diplomat representing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Heikki Talvitie also said both the Armenian authorities and the opposition are to blame for the deadly clashes in Yerevan.
“It is the responsibility of both the government and the opposition to make sure that the society draws the right lessons from this situation, that it emerges stronger from this serious test of democracy and that it does not emerge as a more divided nation,” agreed Semneby.
The EU envoy also called for an “independent investigation” in Saturday’s events but would not say who he thinks might conduct such an inquiry.