The legal amendments drafted by the ministry and posted on a government website are meant to regulate the government’s powers after a declaration of martial law in Armenia. They also include a right to censor mass and social media.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s government already banned any news reports and social media content contradicting its official statements during the 2020 war with Azerbaijan. It used heavy fines to enforce that ban.
The restrictions proposed by the Ministry of Justice have prompted serious concern from media freedom advocates. They say that the government could use the new powers to crack down on dissent.
“We don’t see clear mechanisms, criteria that would be used for blocking social media platforms and other websites,” Artur Papian, the head of the Yerevan-based Media Diversity Institute, said on Wednesday.
“It’s not clear if it will be possible to understand after the lifting of martial law whether those bans were effective or actually harmful,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “No transparent process or system [of doing that] is defined.”
Papian said that the proposed amendments are ambiguous and could be enforced arbitrarily. Nor would they protect Armenians against “disinformation,” he said, adding that the authorities should strive instead to increase “media literacy” and provide the public with quick and credible information.
Another media expert, Samvel Martirosian, voiced similar concerns. In a Facebook post, he also deplored other provisions of the bill that would allow the authorities to confiscate media outlets’ equipment and force broadcasters to air only “military-patriotic” programs.
The Ministry of Justice said on Wednesday that it drafted the bill in response to Pashinian’s instruction to legally ascertain the government’s powers during martial law. In a statement, it said it is open to addressing critics’ concerns and considering their proposals.