Freedom House: Elections are free in Armenia, media is not
Freedom House report on Armenia
Armenia is not yet a democratic country, despite the fact that it “has taken steps to strengthen democracy”. This is stated in the latest annual report “Nations in Transit 2022” of the Freedom House organization.
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Armenia lags behind three post-Soviet countries
According to the report of Freedom House, in general, the level of development of democracy in Armenia has reached 34%. The country has made progress on the Democratization Index, scoring 3.04 out of a possible 7. Last year, this figure was lower – 2.96 points.
The Transition Countries Annual Report presents the state of democracy in 29 countries from Central Europe to Central Asia.
Among the post-Soviet countries, according to this report, Armenia is second only to Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova in terms of its indicators. The best indicator is in Estonia, the worst is in Turkmenistan.
Transition from authoritarian to hybrid regime
The report highlights that since 2004, three former authoritarian countries, namely Moldova, Kosovo and Armenia, have moved to a “hybrid regime” that includes elements of democracy and authoritarianism.
The representative of Freedom House in Armenia Andranik Shirinyan said that countries that have managed to change the authoritarian form of government to a hybrid one are considered more promising. However, the hybrid regime “does not fully meet democratic standards”.
Free and independent elections
According to a Freedom House representative, the shift in the democratic index was positively influenced by two processes – the adoption of a new Electoral Code and the holding of last year’s early parliamentary elections.
“In 2018, the citizens of the Republic of Armenia used a protest movement and a series of competitive elections, the last of which took place in 2021, decisively ending years of rule by the Republican Party of Armenia [former President Serzh Sargsyan]. The leaders of that time have been replaced by a new generation of politicians who, despite their obvious shortcomings, are fundamentally committed to democracy and public interest”, the report says.
Andranik Shirinyan recalls that a number of international partners described the 2021 early parliamentary elections as “free and independent”, which also played a positive role:
“Thanks to this, the political crisis in Armenia, which arose in 2020 as a result of the war provoked by Azerbaijan, was also resolved to some extent. In this regard, Armenia has made progress in the National Democratic Governance category”.
Regression of media independence
As in its previous reports, the organization drew attention to the factor of the independence of the press and the new article in the Armenian criminal code on “grave insult”.
Freedom House believes that regression in the field of media independence is obvious in Armenia.
“The report states that the increase in fines for insults and defamation, as well as the introduction of criminal liability for serious insults, are steps against independent media”, the Armenian representative in the organization emphasized.
In February 2022, Freedom House called on the Armenian Parliament to withdraw the article on “grave insult”. This refers to the abolition of Article 137.1 of the Criminal Code, which criminalizes insulting persons engaged in “public activities”. “Grave insult” is punishable by a fine or arrest in Armenia.
The human rights organization has repeatedly criticized the Armenian authorities for the introduction of this article. Freedom House experts believe that it jeopardizes Armenia’s achievements in the field of democracy and law, which testifies to “a clear regression of democratic norms in the country and a threat to freedom of speech”.
Parliament passed a bill to criminalize grave insults on 30 July 2021. By the end of the year, 263 criminal cases had already been initiated on the fact of insulting civil servants. On February 3, the court made the first decision on one of them. An Armenian citizen was fined 500,000 drams [about $1,000] for insulting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and former Minister of High-Tech Industry Vahagn Khachaturyan.