Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) pressed criminal charges on Wednesday against a man who admitted falsely claiming that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian hailed the U.S. air strike which killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.
The NSS arrested the man on Sunday, saying that he is the Facebook user who wrote, under the pseudonym “Diana Harutiunian,” that Pashinian congratulated U.S. President Donald Trump on Soleimani’s assassination. It said that the Facebook post picked up by Azerbaijani and Iranian media caused “substantial damage” to Armenia’s national security.
The NSS also released a video which shows the suspect, whose face is blurred, saying that he spread the untrue information in a bid to “discredit” the authorities because of their “unfair” prosecution of Armenia’s jailed former President Robert Kocharian. “I deeply regret and apologize for spreading such fake news,” he says.
Kocharian’s family and representatives swiftly denied any connection to the arrested man, who has still not been identified by the NSS. The ex-president’s spokesman, Victor Soghomonian, also accused the NSS of stage-managing the affair on Pashinian’s orders.
Kocharian, who ruled Armenia from 1998-2008, is currently standing trial on coup and corruption charges which he rejects as politically motivated.
The security agency announced on Wednesday that the suspect has been remanded in pre-trial custody after being formally charged under two articles of the Armenian Criminal Code. They deal with inciting “ethnic, racial or religious hatred” and illegally gaining access to computerized information.
Some local press freedom activists question the legality of the criminal case. They argue that Armenian law does not make it a crime to disseminate false reports or rumors.
All forms of libel were decriminalized in Armenia about a decade ago.