Will Armenia follow Russia's example in controlling and censoring publications on the Internet?
State control of publications on the Internet
Armenian Prosecutor General Artur Davtyan suggested that the government introduce state control over information published on the Internet and, if necessary, force the removal of any publications. The Prosecutor General actually made a proposal to introduce censorship in the network. As an example, he referred to the experience of Roskomnadzor.
The initiative of the Prosecutor General’s Office has not yet been formalized in the form of a draft law. But if this regulation is adopted, it will apply not only to the media, but also to users who publish a post on Facebook.
Human rights activists and media experts reacted negatively to the proposal of the Prosecutor General. They warn that if a structure is created to control information on the web, it could become “a tool that restricts freedom of speech,” a “ministry of censorship.”
The government has not yet commented on the proposal of the prosecutor’s office, and there are no comments on the critical remarks made by the experts.
Restrictions “with the guarantee of the right to freedom of expression”
From the message published by the Prosecutor General’s Office, it turns out that Artur Davtyan proposed to the government
- discuss issues of legal regulation of the security of information distributed through Internet resources;
- based on this, discuss the issue of introducing state control in the sphere.
At the same time, it is emphasized that control should be combined “with a guarantee of the constitutional right to freedom of expression”.
The prosecutor’s office also reports that it has conducted a study in the field of protecting the non-property interests of the state, which showed:
- “in recent years, national, religious, sexual or other discrimination has increased in the information disseminated on websites and social media, advertising of substances prohibited in Armenia, including drugs,
- according to the legislation of Armenia, the security of information distributed on social media is not ensured, there are no legal norms,
- control over the provision of information security and the application of the measures arising from this are not assigned to any body.
The prosecutor’s office said that in the absence of such control, information resources continue to freely distribute such content, distorting and abusing the democratic principle of freedom of speech.
The experience of Russia is also cited as an example, where the Prosecutor General or his deputies, in the event that information about suicide methods or drug trafficking is discovered, submit a demand to Roskomnadzor to immediately delete this information and restrict access to the relevant Internet resources.
Armenian experts believe that the goal of the Prosecutor General’s proposal is not to prevent suicide and drug sales among minors, but to control media and social media.
Shushan Doydoyan, Head of the Freedom of Information Center
“It’s fraught with serious consequences”
The experts were alarmed not only by the prosecutor’s proposal itself but also by the reference to the experience of the Russian Roskomnadzor.
“In fact, Roskomnadzor has become a body that exercises open censorship in some cases necessary for the state. And the reference to it does not give grounds to think about anything positive”, said Shushan Doydoyan, head of the Freedom of Information Center.
According to her, this creates the ground for prompt intervention, so that government agencies, if necessary, can immediately take measures and actions on the Internet. According to her, this is fraught with serious consequences.
Shushan Doydoyan agrees with the presence of numerous problems in the content published on the Internet, but believes that their resolution “is not the job of the prosecutor’s office”.
“It would be good if the prosecutor’s office did not take on functions reminiscent of the Russian Roskomnadzor. This is in the interests of everyone, first of all, in the interests of our democracy”.
Boris Navasardyan, head of the Yerevan Press Club
“Medal received, he continues to perform his duties”
Boris Navasardyan regarded the proposal of the Prosecutor General as an attempt to restrict freedom of speech. He says that the initiative has no serious justification. And the expert does not consider it a coincidence that the statement of the prosecutor’s office was preceded by high-level Armenian-Russian contacts.
“Now, when he leaves his post [the term of office of Prosecutor General Artur Davtyan expires on September 15] and receives a medal, he is doing his duty. At the same time, he will not be obliged to complete this initiative”, Boris Navasardyan emphasized.
On April 19, as part of an official visit to Russia, Nikol Pashinyan and Vladimir Putin signed a statement that refers to “the use of modern information and communication technologies to commit illegal and harmful actions, interfere in the internal affairs of states and undermine their sovereignty”. The document enshrines an agreement to strengthen “bilateral cooperation in the field of international information security”.
Recently, by decree of the President of Russia, Prosecutor General Artur Davtyan was awarded a medal.
Samvel Martirosyan, media expert
“Shut-down sites for every unauthorized sneeze”
The expert considers the initiative of the prosecutor’s office a proposal to introduce censorship on the Internet, an attempt to “create a ministry of censorship.” He says that he does not understand why the structure has only now discovered that “there is an Internet where, for example, people can swear or sell drugs.”
“If we follow the path of Russia, then first the fight against drugs and calls for suicide will be banned on the Internet. And one fine day we will find that the state is engaged in blocking, and, moreover, mainly of posts of a political nature.
In his article published on the Media.am website, Samvel Martirosyan emphasized that it would not be possible to fight drug selling in this way, but it would be possible to block political dissent, “closing websites for every unauthorized sneeze”.
“Under the guise of this fight against windmills, huge amounts of money for Armenia will be written off. Because if you decide to do a quality job, this implies serious costs at the level of the Internet infrastructure. Not to mention the fact that they will feed the hungry army of censors at the expense of the taxes we pay”, the expert believes.