A government bill passed by the National Assembly in the first reading stipulates that the Armenian press and social media users can disseminate only those reports about the fighting and national security matters that come from official sources. It also bans any public criticism of war-related actions taken by state bodies and even statements made by government officials.
Violations of these bans will be punishable by heavy fines and up to two years’ imprisonment.
Justice Minister Rustam Badasian defended the proposed restrictions during a parliament debate on the bill. He said that the Armenian government is especially worried about the spread of “false information” on social media.
“The enemy is doing everything -- and you can see that on social media -- to spread panic, and I believe we must not let some individuals undermine our unity,” Badasian told lawmakers.
“The purpose of this legislation is not to undermine social solidarity but, on the contrary, to prevent the spread of false information by some forces, figures or individuals acting against that solidarity,” he said.
Some opposition lawmakers were unconvinced. Edmon Marukian, the leader of the opposition Bright Armenia Party (LHK), said that curbing “people’s freedom to think” could prove counterproductive and only undermine public trust in official information.
“My concern is that this could rather spread mistrust than address any problem because the best weapon for avoiding panic is to constantly tell the truth,” said Marukian.
Another LHK deputy, Gevorg Gorgisian, complained that even incompetent local government officials would now be protected against criticism from journalists and social media users.
Andranik Kocharian, the pro-government chairman of the parliament committee on defense and security, dismissed these concerns. “The enemy uses all kinds of ploys during the war,” said Kocharian.
“There are people who voice for some reasons opinions that harm the task of achieving our victory,” he added without naming anyone.
The Armenia government declared martial law hours after the outbreak of the war in and around Karabakh on September 27.