Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) is not legally allowed to launch a crackdown on false news reports and social media comments ordered by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, a prominent civic activist insisted on Thursday.
“At the moment there are virtually no legal mechanisms allowing the NSS to fight against fake news, unless those who spread fake news commit other crimes,” said Daniel Ioannisian of the Yerevan-based Union of Informed Citizens.
“At the same time, if we … talk about legislative changes, we have to bear in mind that in a democratic society the spread of fake news cannot be deemed a crime and prosecuted by the state,” Ioannisian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “In this regard, the state has very few possibilities of giving law-enforcers, within the framework of legislative changes, levers to fight against fake news.”
Ioannisian argued that the Armenian Criminal Code does not give law-enforcement authorities such levers.
All forms of libel were decriminalized in Armenia about a decade ago.
Earlier in the day, Pashinian ordered the head of the NSS, Artur Vanetsian, to crack down on anyone who uses mass media or social media to “manipulate public opinion.” He referred to “fake” social media users who he said also make untrue claims on government policies or openly call for violence.
Pashinian’s supporters themselves have been accused by members of the former Armenian government and other critics of the country’s current leadership of spreading fake news during and after last year’s “velvet revolution.”
Asked whether the crackdown ordered by Pashinian could be seen as a threat to freedom of expression, Ioannisian said: “That depends on what steps would be taken. I don’t exclude that those who spread fake news also commit other crimes. Maybe by solving those crimes the NSS will manage to thwart the activities of those who spread fake news.”