Armenia: Legislative proposal on insult and defamation compensation threatens press freedom

On 8 September, a member of the Armenian National Assembly brought forward a legislative proposal on insult and defamation that aims to increase fines for publishing insults and defamatory comments in the media and social networks. The International and European Federations of Journalists (IFJ and EFJ) join their affiliate, the Union of Journalists of Armenia (UJA), in urging the parliament not to take up the proposal.

The Armenia National Assembly Credits: KAREN MINASYAN / AFP

The deputy speaker of the National Assembly, Alen Simonyan, proposed the bill to amend the civil code. The proposal aims to increase compensation for insult or defamation by five times, bringing damages for an insult from one million Armenian drams to five million drams (nearly 9000€), and for defamation from 2 million drams to ten million drams (about 18000 Euro).

Simonyan has filed six lawsuits for insult and defamation himself and is confident that the bill would restrain people from spreading insults and fake news, according to Armenian news site

According to Media Advocate, a project of the Armenian Center for Political and International Studies, the concepts of "defamation" and "insult" are not clearly defined in the Armenia's legal code. This vague definition opens the door for misusing the accusation of insult or defamation for political purposes to silence critical journalists or other individuals.

The Union of Journalist of Armenia said: "This initiative is yet another tool of the incumbent authorities aimed at restricting free speech in general, and freedom of the press in particular. Taking into consideration the pivotal role that the media plays in disseminating information regarding issues of public concern in a democratic society, we condemn any such initiative, including the bill on making an amendment to the relevant Article of the Civil Code that was proposed by Alen Simonyan, today, and urge not to include the bill in the agenda of the National Assembly."

IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said: "Insult or defamation accusations are often used against independent reporting. Journalists must inform the public independently without being threatened by crippling damages for spurious allegations. The proposal sends an alarming signal threatening to punish critical reporting even harder. We call on the National Assembly to reject the legislation."

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