The Armenian government moved on Thursday to toughen penalties for physical attacks and threats of violence against journalists or their close relatives.
Under Armenia’s Criminal Code, state officials abusing their power to threaten or actually inflict serious injuries on reporters must face between three and seven years in prison. The code calls for only heavy fines for other individuals engaged in this and other types of “obstruction of the work of journalists.”
Amendments to the code drafted by the Justice Ministry and approved by Prime Minister Karen Karapetian’s cabinet would make those individuals liable for the same punishment as the officials currently are. Justice Minister Davit Harutiunian said this would eliminate “shortcomings” in the existing legal safeguards against violent attacks on the media.
Ashot Melikian of the Yerevan-based Committee to Protect Freedom of Speech welcomed the changes initiated by the government. But he said it remains to be seen whether the authorities are committed to enforcing them.
“Our monitoring shows that both judicial and law-enforcement bodies very often avoid applying that article [of the Criminal Code,]” Melikian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Melikian pointed to authorities’ failure to imprison anyone in connection with violent attacks on journalists committed by police or their agents during the dispersal of anti-government demonstrations in Yerevan in 2015 and 2016.