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MOUNTING CONCERN about press freedom IN ARMENIA

The Azeri Times

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As Armen Sarkissian, the first Armenian president to elected by parliament, prepares to take office on 9 April, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) points out that halting the decline in media freedom will be a major task facing Armenia’s government.

“We are disturbed by the downward trend in respect for press freedom in Armenia and we urge parliament to reconsider recent legislative initiatives reducing the right of access to information and obstructing journalists’ work,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “The authorities must also conduct full and impartial investigations into acts of violence against journalists and end impunity for such acts.”

Right to information threatened

RSF is concerned about a series of legislative initiatives reducing journalists’ access to information in the public interest, the latest of which keep reporters away from the places where the authorities take decisions.

Under legislative amendments passed by parliament on 23 March, without prior discussion with the journalistic community, government ministers will no longer be able to give interviews without the prime minister’s permission, and reporters will not normally be allowed to attend government meetings, including cabinet meetings, which will be held behind closed doors.

A local government law approved the same day included a surprise, last-minute amendment that deprives journalists of access to the city hall in the capital, Yerevan. They will be restricted to a separate press centre and will not be able to attend municipal council meetings without the mayor’s prior authorization.

The amendment was added to the law at its second reading, and its hasty adoption is attributed to an incident at a municipal council meeting in February, when reporters were able to provide live TV coverage of municipal officials and ruling party members using violence against an opposition representative.

In 2017, media and civil society representatives campaigned against a law proposed by the justice ministry restricting access to state-held information. Its provisions were much less liberal than those in place for the past 14 years. In a bid to defuse tension, the bill’s adoption was postponed for six months in December, but local NGOs are still calling for it to be scrapped or for a proper process of consultation.

The lack of consultation is a recurring problem. Journalists did not learn about major amendments to the law on protection of personal data until two months after their adoption in early 2017. The amendments impose drastic curbs on the media’s ability to gather and publish personal information, forcing them to obtain the consent of the persons concerned, regardless of their status.

By eliminating the exemption that journalists previously enjoyed, the law now contradicts Armenia’s media law, which allows the publication of information about a person’s family and private life if a public interest is served. Investigative reporting is now endangered because public figures could sue journalists for revealing personal information even if the journalists were investigating corruption, for example.

Rising violence, continuing impunity

The number of attacks on media personnel has increased in recent years and at least 17 journalists were the victims of violence in 2017.

The 2017 parliamentary election campaign was the most fraught period. Shoghik Galstyan and Hayk Petrosyan of the news website Araratnews.am and Sisak Gabrielyan of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Armenian service were attacked near the headquarters of one of the candidates in Yerevan on election day itself.

Three other journalists were previously the victims of violence during the election campaign, while several journalists were threatened and prevented from covering the voting.

Surge in defamation suits

Last year also saw a big surge in the number of legal actions against journalists and media outlets. A total of 60 lawsuits were filed in 2017, more than three times the 2016 total of 17, and more than at any time since defamation was decriminalized in 2010.

No fewer than 30 complaints were brought in March 2017 alone against Daniel Ioannisyan, the founder of the fact-checking website Sut.am and an NGO called the Union of Informed Citizens. None of the cases prospered in court.

Armenia is ranked 79th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index, five places lower than in the 2016 Index.

Armenia

Armenia’s “revolution” faces its biggest test yet

The Azeri Times

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After winning local elections, Pashinyan is seeking to push his advantage. And the old guard may feel it has nothing left to lose.
Armenians poured into the streets of Yerevan on October 2, summoned by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who said that the country was at risk of a “counter-revolution” fomented by remnants of the regime he toppled in the spring. A day later, the situation remained in a standoff between Pashinyan and his opposition, and the crisis has posed the most dramatic challenge to Pashinyan’s “Velvet Revolution” in the five months he’s been in power.

So how did it come to this?

When Pashinyan was leading protests against the former administration in the spring, he made a four-part series of demands: the resignation of then-leader Serzh Sargsyan; the election of a new prime minister; a new election law; and new elections.

The first two were quickly implemented, with Pashinyan himself elected prime minister. The third is a work in progress, with some election reforms having already passed and others in the works. But it is the final step, the new parliamentary elections, that are supposed to cement the “revolution,” as Pashinyan calls it.

Until recently, Pashinyan and his team had suggested a wide range of times for the elections – from this fall to next spring – without setting a firm date. There were two primary, but contradictory, considerations, at play.

He wanted the elections as soon as possible, because his bloc in parliament held only nine out of 105 seats, and he was working with a tenuous coalition of allies of the old regime, including the Prosperous Armenia party, run by oligarch Gagik Tsarukyan, and the national stalwarts Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF).

But he also needed time: His party was still small, and in the last parliamentary elections it got only seven percent of the vote. While Pashinyan is himself wildly popular in Armenia, and that representation would certainly multiply manifold, elections still represented a risk.

Yerevan municipal elections in late September, however, resulted in a landslide victoryfor Pashinyan’s “My Step” slate, which took 81 percent of the vote. Encouraged by the result, Pashinyan moved to push ahead the election date; the day after the Yerevan elections he said that the parliamentary vote should take place “very quickly.”

This apparently triggered the “counter-revolution.” Led by the formerly ruling Republican Party of Armenia, lawmakers pushed ahead a vote to change the law on what would happen if parliament were to be prevented from meeting. Under the old rules, that would trigger new elections; the new law would remove that provision. The goal seemed to be to neutralize the threat of street protests, which could conceivably be deployed to block parliament, and which remain the most potent weapon in Pashinyan’s arsenal.

Most remarkably, the Republicans were joined by the MPs from Prosperous Armenia and the ARF. Pashinyan responded by firing all the ministers from those two parties, but it remains unclear why those parties chose this moment to turn against Pashinyan and again throw their lots in with the Republicans.

One factor could have been the prospect of their looming political death: Prosperous Armenia, which had been mooted as a potential spoiler for Pashinyan due to Tsarukyan’s popularity among many poor, rural Armenians, got only 7 percent in the Yerevan elections. The ARF did even worse, garnering less than 2 percent.

Whatever the case, Pashinyan now must rely again on mass people power. Pashinyan estimated that 10,000 people came out to parliament to support him on October 2, and if there is a genuine prospect of a “counter-revolution” it is not difficult to imagine crowds far greater than that taking to the streets again. While hints of cynicism are beginning to creep into Armenian political conversations, and there is some chance of protest fatigue, Pashinyan still remains very popular. Maybe more importantly, the old regime remains deeply hated, and any prospect of their return will certainly be vigorously opposed.

Pashinyan has promised to resign, which would force new elections in the parliament for a prime minister. If those fail, they would trigger new elections. Pashinyan appears to be playing a sort of political chicken, gambling that his opponents will be unable to muster support for an opposition candidate. The smart money would seem to favor him. But members of the old regime, along with their once and again allies, may see no need to back down, no matter the degree of public pressure. And they still retain many levers of power, including large swaths of the bureaucracy and at least tacit support from Moscow.

This may be the old regime’s last, desperate attempt to reverse their losses. Their odds may be slim, but they may feel they have nothing left to lose.

Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.

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Armenia

Armenia provocation: Villages in Tovuz shelled

The Azeri Times

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Armenia committed provocation against civilians on the front line, informs the press-service of the Azerbaijani Defence Ministry.

Starting from the evening of September 14 until the morning of September 15, the units of the Armenian armed forces, using weapons of different calibre, including artillery mount, committed provocation on Tovuz, Terter and Aghdam directions.

The enemy, in particular, subjected to fire the positions of the Azerbaijan Army, stationed in the direction of the villages of Munjuglu, Kokhanebi, Asrik Jirdakhan and Garalar of Tovuz region, as well as civilians living in these villages.

There are no casualties among servicemen and the population of Azerbaijan. Damage has been caused to several houses, property of the population and civil infrastructure.

The implementation of such provocative actions by Armenian side on the eve of the significant events and holidays celebrated in Azerbaijan is purposeful.

The Ministry of Defence reports that as a result of urgent retaliatory actions undertaken by the units of the Azerbaijan Army, the enemy’s activity was suppressed. The military-political leadership of Armenia bears all responsibility for the destruction and losses of the enemy.

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Armenia

Azerbaijani Army prepares for offensive in Karabakh (Large-scale exercises)

The Azeri Times

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In accordance with the plan approved by the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces Ilham Aliyev, large-scale operational-tactical exercises with the participation of various military branches of troops, Army Corpses, and formations of the Azerbaijan Army will be held under the supervision of the Minister of Defence, Colonel-General Zakir Hasanov from 17th to 22nd of September.

As informs the press-service of the Azerbaijani Defence Ministry. the exercises will involve more than 20,000 military personnel, more than 200 tanks and other armoured vehicles, more than 120 rocket and artillery mounts of different calibre, multiple launch rocket systems, and mortars, up to 10 fighter jets and bomber aircraft, up to 20 army aviation units for various purposes.

In the course of the exercises, the issues of the tank breakthrough of the enemy’s echeloned defence in several directions, the crushing defeat of armed groups and forward units of Armenia in the territory of Karabakh will be worked out, tasks will be fulfilled for the liberation of the occupied territories by the destruction of military and strategic facilities located on the territory of the enemy by rocket-artillery and air strikes.

The military personnel’s possession skills of the military equipment and weapons that have been adopted into the armament of the Azerbaijan Army over the past year will also be checked.

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