Armenia’s parliament backed on Monday a government proposal to introduce jail sentences for people defying quarantine or self-isolation orders issued by health authorities dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.
The Armenian government moved to impose these and other penalties last week following the declaration of a one-month state of emergency aimed at containing the spread of the COVID-19 virus in the country.
The National Assembly tentatively approved a relevant government bill on Friday. The bill underwent a number of changes before being passed in the second and final reading three days later.
It calls for prison sentences ranging from one to five years and fines of between 300,000 and 1 million drams ($600-$,2000) for various types of violation of the confinement orders. The harshest punishment, 3 to 5 years’ imprisonment, is envisaged for cases where a breach of quarantine or self-isolation leads to fatal infections of other individuals.
The two opposition parties represented in the parliament backed these measures after the government and the parliament majority loyal to it incorporated some of their proposals into the bill. In particular, the authorities agreed to somewhat ease their controversial restrictions on the spread of coronavirus-related information.
The bill initially stipulated that all media reports and social media posts regarding the COVID-19 virus must reflect information provided by government sources. Opposition politicians, civic activists and journalists were quick to decry this provision, saying that it legalizes censorship and puts unnecessary curbs on press freedom in the country.
The fact that at least two Armenian publications were ordered to delete coronavirus-related stories from their websites in recent days only added to the criticism. Law-enforcement authorities also controversially forced several Facebook users to delete their posts critical of the government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
The final version of the bill does not make private individuals violating the social media restrictions liable for fines. But it retains financial penalties for broadcasters as well as print and online media that will disseminate unauthorized information about the deadly virus.
The Armenian authorities have so far reported 194 cases of coronavirus but no deaths resulting from them. According to them, some 600 Armenians are kept in quarantine and hundreds of others in self-isolation at present.