A senior government official
expressed on Wednesday his strong opposition to the idea of decriminalizing libel
offenses in Armenia which is advocated by local media watchdogs and international
Mikael Grigoryan, a top aide to the chief of the Armenian Police
Service, defended an article of the new criminal code which makes defamation of
character a crime punishable by up to three years in prison.
has been criticized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
as a "serious threat to freedom of expression." In a joint letter to
parliament speaker Artur Baghdasaryan last June, they called for its abolition,
saying that libel should regulated by civil, not criminal, law. Baghdasaryan promised
to amend the code in line with the European standards, but indicated subsequently
that the controversial provision should not necessarily be scrapped.
is one of the main authors of the criminal code, and his remarks made at a media
seminar in Yerevan suggest that the Armenian authorities are unlikely to agree
to decriminalize libel. Responding to critics' concerns, he said: "The code
does not restrict freedom of speech. On the contrary, it provides for the realization
of that constitutional right."
A representative of international media
watchdog Article 19, Julia Apostle, claimed the opposite, saying that the code
is open to government abuse and can be used against journalists critical of the
"If a judge abuses this provision, he can be punished,"
Grigoryan countered. "Any irresponsible person, whether he is a judge or
journalist, must be held accountable for his actions."
libel legislation, a holdover from the Soviet era, stipulates that defamation
does not have to be malicious and deliberate to be deemed a crime. But no Armenian
journalist has so far been sent to jail for their reports.