Taguhi Tovmasian said she has received such information from a reliable source and demanded that the parliament staff comment on it. She said the restrictions would deal a serious blow to press freedom in Armenia.
“I need explanations,” Tovmasian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “Why should the work of journalists be restricted? Why should journalists watch National Assembly sessions only through monitors and be unable to film proceedings on the parliament floor? I am told that they want to eliminate the press gallery and make sure that journalists cannot approach any deputy [in parliament corridors] and ask questions.”
“If we live in a democratic, parliamentary country why would members of its parliament avoid being transparent and accountable? What are they afraid of?” said the former reporter.
The parliament administration did not immediately confirm or deny Tovmasian’s claims, telling RFE/RL’S Armenian Service to submit its questions in writing.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s Civil Contract party, Vahagn Aleksanian, lent credence to the claims when he strongly defended the restrictions listed by the opposition parliamentarian.
“I hope that the National Assembly staff will opt for that,” he wrote on Facebook in response to the concerns voiced by Tovmasian.
Aleksanian claimed that parliamentary correspondents have interfered with the National Assembly’s activities by “chasing deputies” and ignoring “all ethical norms” for the sake of asking “sensationalist questions.”
The new regulations, if confirmed, will apply to press coverage of Armenia’s recently elected parliament, which is scheduled to hold its inaugural session on August 2. Pashinian’s party will control 71 of the parliament’s 107 seats.
Tovmasian edited a major Armenian newspaper before joining the Pashinian-led My Step alliance and becoming a parliament deputy in December 2018. She defected from My Step in December 2020 and got reelected to the parliament last month on the ticket of an opposition bloc led by former President Serzh Sarkisian.
Tovmasian insisted that the planned restrictions make mockery of the democratic credentials of a government that took office as a result of the “velvet revolution” of April-May 2018. She said that the country’s former, supposedly less democratic governments never dared to curb journalists’ freedom of movement inside the parliament building so drastically.
“A ‘revolutionary’ government that has declared itself a bastion of democracy is one by one dismantling all democratic safeguards accumulated by us over the years,” said the lawmaker. “I used to work as a parliamentary correspondent for many years and I never saw such treatment of journalists.”
Pashinian’s political team faced strong criticism from Armenia’s leading media associations in March when it pushed through the parliament a bill tripling maximum fines for defamation. President Armen Sarkissian refused to sign the bill into law, asking the Constitutional Court to assess its conformity with the Armenian constitution.
In February, Armenian prosecutors drafted legislation that would make defamation of state officials a crime punishable by up to two years in prison. All forms of libel and defamation were decriminalized in Armenia in 2010 during Sarkisian’s rule.