State of emergency in Armenia and its impact on human rights and civic space

Update: On April 14 the government extended the state of emergency for another month. All the limitations regarding freedom of expression and mass media are removed for the extended period.

On March 16, 2020 the Government of Armenia adopted a decree on the state of emergency, as based on the necessity to take measures against the new coronavirus, some constitutional rights and freedom need to be limited, in particular the right to personal liberty, freedom of movement, freedom of assemblies, ownership rights, etc. The state of emergency was declared starting from March 16, 18:30, up to April 14, 17:00.

In particular, according to the paragraph 17 of the Appendix to the decision, public assemblies as well as any gatherings of more than 20 persons are prohibited, including events such as concerts, sport or leisure events, education classes, celebrations or funerals. According to the paragraph 23, any publication or dissemination of publications, interviews, broadcasts by physical, legal persons and mass media on the current and new cases of new coronavirus infections in the Republic of Armenia, as well as outside the Republic of Armenia, health status of persons, sources of infection, scope of contact with existing or potential infectious persons, number of persons undergoing checking (infection testing) and isolation, activities carried out by the health authorities and the related data, as well as information bringing panic or containing a real danger of panic, including through publications on websites and social networks, should be only through reference to the information provided by the commandant’s office  (hereinafter referred to as official information)[Commandant’s office is established to implement a unified command of forces and resources ensuring the legal state of emergency and is led by the deputy prime minister]. Exceptions are allowed only for reports by state officials and publications with references to their reports. Later (on March 19) the relevant provisions were revised extending exceptions for publications with references to websites and social media pages of international organisations and officials of foreign countries. The government decree on the state of emergency (in Armenian) is available here: https://www.arlis.am/DocumentView.aspx?DocID=140392

On March 23, 2020 the National Assembly adopted the draft amendments to the Criminal Code of RA proposed by the government. According to the amendments, criminal liability is established for violation of isolation or self-isolation requirements in a state of emergency, which inadvertently caused mass diseases of people. (art. 277.1 of RA CC), and is punished by arrest or imprisonment for up to two years. Simultaneously, amendments to the RA Code on Administrative Offenses have been adopted. Article 182.3 of the RA Code of Administrative Offenses has been supplemented by provisions on violation of the requirements of isolation or self-isolation during a state of emergency, which imposes a fine of ranging from three hundred up to five hundred minimum wages (part 10 of art. 182.3) and provisions on violation of restrictions on the publication or dissemination of information by physical and legal persons during an emergency which imposes a fine ranging from fifty to three hundred minimum wages. The draft amendments are available on the parliament’s website at  http://www.parliament.am/drafts.php?sel=showdraft&DraftID=11427&Reading=1 and http://www.parliament.am/drafts.php?sel=showdraft&DraftID=11428&Reading=1

The draft laws have been developed on the basis of the fact that a state of emergency is currently declared in the Republic of Armenia whereby the fundamental rights of persons are subject to certain temporary restrictions. Since no legal consequences of violating these restrictions have been established in Armenian legislation, it was necessary to ensure that the legal framework for the state of emergency is established by means of criminal and administrative liability rules. Though currently persons are subject to isolation and self-isolation in order to prevent and minimize its consequences, and several restrictions on the publication and dissemination of information are provided for mass media, in practice, it is not always possible to properly fulfill these requirements without applying legal remedies. Amendments to the Criminal Code and to the Code on Administrative Offences entered into force immediately after its official promulgation.

Several media organisations issued a statement against the provisions of the state of emergency that regulate the dissemination of information, mentioning that the relevant provisions are disproportionate and not reasonable. They call for a regulation which will more clearly specify possible limitations and ensure effective partnerships between official agencies and the media. See the information on the statement (in English) here: https://news.am/eng/news/567317.html, the full statement is available here in Armenian: https://khosq.am/2020/03/20/հայտարարություն-53/.