Armenia: press freedom and freedom of expression under threat

  • 19.04.2024
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The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) joined its affiliate in Armenia, the Union of Journalists of Armenia (UJA), in denouncing the authorities’ misuse of anti-hooliganism legislation to suppress press freedom and freedom of expression. The EFJ and UJA demand the immediate release of Narek Samsonyan and Vazgen Saghatelyan, co-authors of the podcast “Imnemnimi”, imprisoned for criticising Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

Vazgen Saghatelyan and Narek Samsonyan, the hosts of Imnemnimi, were given two-month pretrial detention on 22 March on charges of hooliganism. If found guilty, they could face up to five years in prison.

Armenia’s Investigative Committee stated in a statement that Saghatelyan and Samsonyan, who is the founder of AntiFake.am media outlet, committed hooliganism by “showing an openly contemptuous attitude towards moral norms’ and swearing at Pashinyan and his cabinet”. The committee cited an episode streamed on YouTube on 20 March about a parliamentary session as the reason for their arrest. They were charged with hooliganism the following day.

AntiFake.am published footage of Samsonyan’s brutal arrest, on the morning of 22 March. The video shows a group of police officers tackling a man and pushing his face to the ground. Later on the same day, the second host of the “Imnemnimi” podcast, Vazgen Saghatelyan, was also arrested. They were given two-month pretrial detention.

Nikol Pashinyan’s government is stepping up restrictions on freedom of expression. After attempting to criminalise the offence of serious insult, the authorities are using the provisions punishing hooliganism to punish opponents and journalists. According to UJA, “the number of political prisoners in Armenia is increasing day by day”.

“Even if Samsonyan and Saghatelyan used harsh language in their podcast, this in no way justified police brutality and detention,” said UJA President Satik Seyranyan. “They were not inciting violence but simply expressing their opinion. Equating these events with hooliganism shows the extent to which the authorities are abusing the law.”

“We call on the Council of Europe and the OSCE to condemn the repression of freedom of expression in Armenia,” added Ricardo Gutiérrez, EFJ General Secretary. “The Armenian authorities must release political opponents and media actors imprisoned for expressing their opinions. We consider them to be political prisoners and demand their immediate release”.

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