Internet freedom in Armenia has improved since the Velvet Revolution swept Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan into power in 2018. Access continues to grow. Users generally do not encounter restrictions on online content. Concerns about pressure on digital media remain, though some analysts argue that undue political influence on the online information landscape is less pervasive under Pashinyan. However, online journalists have been harassed for publishing content critical of the new government.
The Pashinyan government has pledged to deal with long-standing problems including systemic corruption, opaque policymaking, a flawed electoral system, and weak rule of law. Although Pashinyan’s government has taken significant steps to address corruption, concerns about political interference in the judiciary and hostile rhetoric toward the media from government officials persist.
June 1, 2018 – May 31, 2019
In the wake of the Velvet Revolution, violence against online journalists subsided (see C7).
In September 2018, the authorities, acting on questionable evidentiary grounds, raided the offices of online news portal Yerevan.Today, seizing computers and disrupting the outlet’s operations (see C7).
In April 2019, security services arrested the author of a controversial Facebook page for “sowing racial, religious, and ethnic hatred.” Although the page had posted offensive content, activists expressed concern that the arrest amounted to an attack on online expression (see C3).
In May 2019, Facebook temporarily restricted several accounts belonging to pro-Pashinyan social and political activists. An unknown group calling itself “Digital Granate” took responsibility for these blockings (see B2).
A Obstacles to Access
Internet access in Armenia continues to grow. The information and communication technology (ICT) market is relatively diverse, with local and foreign-owned internet service providers (ISPs) competing for customers, though an urban-rural divide persists, limiting access and quality for those living outside major cities.
|Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections?||56|
Internet access is widespread in Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, and is expanding elsewhere throughout the country. The reliability and speed of internet connections across Armenia have generally improved in recent years. Most shopping malls, cafés, schools, and universities in Yerevan provide free Wi-Fi access. There are also public Wi-Fi hotspots in central areas of the capital, on certain public buses, on the metro, in some railway stations, and in some taxis. It is also possible to find public Wi-Fi hotspots in other major cities, though not to the same extent as in Yerevan.
In 2018, the number of broadband internet subscriptions (including mobile 3G, 4G, and 4G+ subscriptions) increased by 10 percent over 2017, to 2.9 million (in a country of 3 million people).1 According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Armenia’s overall internet penetration rate was 69.7 percent in 2017,2 while its mobile internet penetration rate stood at 66.8 percent and its fixed broadband penetration rate at 10.8 percent.3 Mobile 3G service is widely available, covering about 90 percent of the country (excluding mostly unpopulated mountainous regions).4 4G+ mobile networks, meanwhile, now cover 88 percent of settlements.5 Mobile operators are also working to build a network for 5G service.6 ISPs offer fixed broadband services through the telephone network (ADSL) and fiber-optic cables, as well as Wi-Fi and WiMax technologies.
According to data published by Speedtest in May 2019, the average speed of a fixed broadband connection is 23.68 Mbps, while the average speed of a mobile internet connection is 29.05 Mbps.7
Four ISPs maintain fiber-optic backbone networks that connect to the international internet via the Republic of Georgia. There is also a limited fiber-optic connection through Iran, which mostly serves as a backup.8 In February 2019, the Armenian ISP Ucom signed a memorandum of understanding with ISPs in Iran and Qatar to build an internet transit link between the Gulf states and Europe through Armenia.9
The limited number of internet connections to and from Armenia present challenges in ensuring uninterrupted internet access. In early 2019, Armenian users briefly experienced internet disruptions or slow connection speeds as a result of physical damage to ICT infrastructure in Georgia.10
- 1. http://psrc.am/en/sectors/electronic-communications (Armenian)
- 2. https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Documents/publications/misr2018…
- 3. https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Documents/publications/misr2018…
- 4. This information was derived from reports published on several mobile operators’ websites, including MTS (mts.am), Beeline (beeline.am), and Orange Armenia (orangearmenia.am)
- 5. Data provided to Freedom House by the Ministry of Transport, Communication, and Information Technologies of Armenia
- 6. “Mobile operators comment on prospects of 4G and 5G networks in Armenia,” Itel, November 28, 2017, http://www.itel.am/en/news/9514
- 7. https://www.speedtest.net/global-index
- 8. Samvel Martrirosyan, “The Problems of Armenian Internet Domain,” Noravank Foundation, January 12, 2016, http://bit.ly/1QDh61R
- 9. https://www.ucom.am/en/news/2019/02/27/connecting-europe-armenia-iran-q…
- 10. https://news.am/eng/news/494368.html
|Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons?||23|
In general, internet connections are affordable in Armenia. According to official statistics, the average Armenian earned 173,000 drams ($360) per month in 2018.1 Wages have grown, while average prices for “internet access provision services” remained unchanged in 20182 and in the first half of 2019,3 per official statistics. Broadband internet subscriptions are between $9 and $10 per month, while mobile plans with 3 GB of data per month included are available for between $3.50 and $4 per month. Widely accessible “triple play” packages from ISPs offer broadband internet service with speeds ranging from 20 Mbps to 100 Mbps for between $17 and $50 per month. In 2018, mobile operators almost doubled their data limits for mobile broadband subscribers.4
There is a digital divide between major population centers and more rural areas. The quality of service may be limited outside of cities due to lack of competition between providers. In contrast to the diverse market in Yerevan, many villages have only one or two mobile broadband services from which to choose. Nonetheless, according to a 2018 government report, only 3 out of 1,003 settlements in Armenia lack mobile broadband service.5 Of the remaining 1,000 settlements, 4 percent are covered only by one mobile operator, 16 percent are covered by two operators, and 80 percent are covered by three operators.6
- 1. https://www.armstat.am/en/?nid=12&id=08001
- 2. https://www.armstat.am/file/article/cpi_11_2018.pdf, pg. 15
- 3. https://www.armstat.am/file/article/cpi_06_2019-eng.pdf, pg. 12
- 4. Data provided to Freedom House by the Ministry of Transport, Communication, and Information Technologies of Armenia
- 5. Public Services Regulatory Commission, 2018 year report on mobile network coverage http://psrc.am/images/docs/sectors/Telecom/2018/%D5%B7%D5%A1%D6%80%D5%A…
- 6. Public Services Regulatory Commission, 2018 year report on mobile network coverage http://psrc.am/images/docs/sectors/Telecom/2018/%D5%B7%D5%A1%D6%80%D5%A…
|Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity?||66|
The government does not shut down internet access, and control of Armenia’s internet infrastructure is decentralized. ISPs exchange traffic through a local exchange point operated by the ArmEx Foundation, a non-profit organization (see A5).
The government and the telecommunications regulatory authority, the Public Services Regulatory Commission (PSRC), do not interfere with the planning of network topology. Private telecommunications operators plan and develop their own networks independently.
|Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers?||56|
The telecommunications market is reasonably diverse, with three mobile service providers and dozens of ISPs.1 Armenia was one of the first post-Soviet countries to privatize its telecommunications sector. There are no significant constraints on entering the market. In 2013, amendments to the Law on Electronic Communication removed requirements that ISPs obtain a license, instead requiring that they simply notify the PRSC before providing services or operating a telecommunications network.2
According to the PSRC, there are 160 ISPs in Armenia as of May 2019.3 However, three operators control nearly all of the fixed-line broadband internet market.4 In the first quarter of 2019, Beeline had 117,666 reported subscribers,5 Ucom reported 107,756,6 and Rostelecom reported 51,586.7 Ucom is an Armenian company, while the other two are Russian-owned.
At the end of 2018, Vivacell-MTS, a Russian company, was the largest mobile service provider, controlling a majority of the mobile market, followed by Beeline and Ucom.8
Public access points such as cafés, libraries, schools, and community centers must be licensed if they offer internet service for a fee; free internet access points are exempt, according to a separate law.9
- 1. “ Information and Telecommunication Technologies Sector in Armenia 2014 State of Industry Report,” EIF, accessed October 22, 2018, http://bit.ly/1OYd3ri
- 2. On Amendments and Additions to the Law on Electronic Communication, https://www.arlis.am/DocumentView.aspx?docid=83556
- 3. https://bit.ly/2osOuDB
- 4. https://b24.am/report/70401.html
- 5. https://static.beeline.am/upload/images/Documents/armentel/2019/Informa…
- 6. https://www.ucom.am/file_manager/reports/fix/19-1_eng.pdf
- 7. https://www.rtarmenia.am/images/statements/PSRC-1st-2019.pdf
- 8. https://b24.am/business/75883.html
- 9. Article 43, Law of the Republic of Armenia on Licensing, May 30, 2001, with several amendments from 2002-2012. http://www.parliament.am/law_docs/270601HO193eng.pdf?lang=eng
|Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner?||24|
The PSRC operates relatively transparently, and its regulatory activities in the telecommunications sector are generally fair. However, in the past, the body’s conduct—particularly with respect to public utilities like gas and water—has been marred by corruption.1 The body’s decisions are made during open meetings, in which the public can participate.2 The PSRC must submit an annual report to the National Assembly, but the parliament cannot intervene in its decisions, preserving the body’s independence. The PSRC primarily focuses its regulatory activities on companies with significant market power.
The PSRC was assigned responsibility for regulating the telecommunications sector under the 2005 Law on Electronic Communication.3 Its authority, mechanisms for commissioners’ appointments, and budgeting principles are defined under the Law on Public Service Regulation Commission.4 One of the weakest elements of the telecommunications regulatory framework is the absence of term limits for commissioners. Commissioners are appointed by the president based on recommendations from the prime minister that are subject to parliamentary approval. Once appointed, commissioners can be dismissed only if they are convicted of a crime, fail to perform their professional duties, or violate other rules, such as those that prohibit obtaining shares of companies regulated by the PSRC.
Though industry self-regulation remains underdeveloped, three well-established nonprofit organizations have helped shape the ICT sector. The oldest is the national chapter of the Internet Society (ISOC Armenia), a global organization that supports the development of the internet around the world, which served as the primary internet policy advocate in Armenia during the early stages of industry development in the mid-1990s. It has since ceded much of its regulatory role to the PSRC, but continues to maintain the registry of country-level domain names according to best practices recommended by ICANN, the nonprofit that manages global domain name systems. Though it lacks formal dispute-resolution policies, the Armenian ICT market enjoys a liberal and nondiscriminatory domain name registration regime. A second well-established industry association is the Union of Advanced Technology Enterprises (UATE). A third institution, the ArmEx Foundation, was established by leading telecommunications companies, ISOC Armenia, and UATE, to create a local data traffic exchange point.
- 1. E.g., https://www.azatutyun.am/a/29456213.html; https://fip.am/en/4825
- 2. Article 11, Law of the Republic of Armenia on Public Service Regulation Commission, https://www.arlis.am/DocumentView.aspx?DocID=114423
- 3. Law of the Republic of Armenia on Electronic Communication, https://www.arlis.am/DocumentView.aspx?docid=1869
- 4. Law of the Republic of Armenia on Public Service Regulation Commission, https://www.arlis.am/DocumentView.aspx?DocID=114423
B Limits on Content
The Armenian government does not consistently or pervasively block users’ access to content online, and no social media or communications apps were restricted during the reporting period.
|Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content?||66|
In general, online content is widely accessible, and no social media platforms, communication apps, or popular websites were restricted during the coverage period. Blocking is limited to locally hosted content found to contravene laws on pornography or copyright.
|Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content?||34|
According to the latest transparency reports from Facebook, Google, and Twitter, the Armenian government did not issue any requests to remove content.1 However, both the government and some nonstate actors have used complaint mechanisms to prompt Facebook to block the accounts of political opponents.
In May 2019, Citizen’s Decision party member Garegin Miskaryan received a request from the National Security Service (NSS) to take down an allegedly false Facebook post alleging that the NSS director, Artur Vanetsyan, was using a flower business as a front to illegally import Iranian fuel.2 Miskaryan refused to comply with the request, and the post remained on his page.
That month, Facebook restricted accounts belonging to several pro-Pashinyan social and political activists.3 A group calling itself “Digital Granate” claimed responsibility for the blocked accounts. The group appears to have flooded Facebook with complaints about the accounts, triggering their suspensions. “Digital Granate” said it was targeting these activists for spreading “perversion” by defaming “national values and religion.” Facebook subsequently restored the blocked accounts.
In April 2019, Facebook took down a satirical and sometimes hateful Facebook page that had mocked Pashinyan, reportedly at the behest of the government, which had accused the page of spreading “fake news” (see C3).4 The page had also posted offensive content directed at an evangelical church, among other targets. Facebook later restored the page, but it had not posted any additional content by the end of the reporting period.
In March 2018, prior to the coverage period, Facebook banned dozens of Armenian users, including some journalists and bloggers, in an effort to combat hate speech. Users were banned for using a particular word that is included in many Armenian names (and even in the title of one news outlet), and internet freedom activists claimed that many of those blocked had not engaged in hate speech. Some accounts were also blocked for posts published years before Facebook began to police hate speech.5
- 1. https://transparency.facebook.com/content-restrictions/country/AM; https://transparencyreport.google.com/government-removals/by-country/AM; https://transparency.twitter.com/en/removal-requests.html#removal-reque…
- 2. NSS requested from the member of Citizen`s Decision party to delete post on Facebook (In Russian) May 1, 2019, https://rus.azatutyun.am/a/29915032.html
- 3. Money Was Stolen From A Peruvian Musician For Advertising Posts About “Sorosian Grant-Eaters” In Armenia, 18 May, 2019, https://media.am/en/digital-granate-hacked-franco-caceres-cusco-rock
- 4. https://eurasianet.org/pashinyan-takes-on-fake-news
- 5. Samvel Martirosyan, “Without Realizing, Facebook Suppresses Freedom of Speech,” media.am, March 4, 2018, https://media.am/en/facebook-ban-for0hate-speech-situation-for-armenia-…
|Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process?||34|
Armenia permits the filtering of internet content only under a narrow set of circumstances, and decisions to block content require a court order.1 Armenian courts can issue orders to block illegal content, including child pornography and content that violates intellectual property rights.2 Orders to block content can be challenged in court by content owners, who may claim compensation if a judge finds the blocking order to be illegal or unnecessary. Since Armenia is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, appeals of content blocking decisions can also be filed at the European Court of Human Rights. The government is, however, legally empowered to limit mass media, including digital media, during states of emergency.3
ISPs and content hosts are shielded from liability for illegal content stored on or transmitted through their systems without their prior knowledge.4
The community standards for social media platforms, particularly Facebook, are nontransparent for Armenian users. Facebook has banned the accounts of a number of Armenian opinion leaders and media outlets for violating its terms of service. According to rights activists, the decisions lacked transparency, and some of those blocked have been accused of hate speech without evidence to support the claims.5
- 1. https://berec.europa.eu/files/document_register_store/2017/6/Session%20…
- 2. https://www.aipa.am/en/laws/
- 3. https://www.arlis.am/DocumentView.aspx?DocID=121572
- 4. https://mediainitiatives.am/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Internet-Freedom…
- 5. Money Was Stolen From A Peruvian Musician For Advertising Posts About “Sorosian Grant-Eaters” In Armenia, May 18, 2019 https://media.am/en/digital-granate-hacked-franco-caceres-cusco-rock
|Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship?||34|
Online journalists, commentators, and ordinary internet users do not engage in widespread self-censorship. A diversity of political opinions proliferate on social media, and robust political debates are common online.
In July 2018, in the wake of Armenian’s Velvet Revolution, a group of prominent journalists, including several from online media outlets, issued a statement decrying an "atmosphere of intolerance” on social networks and denouncing online incitements to violence against the news media in reaction to critical reporting.1
A lessening of tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh has contributed to reduced self-censorship when discussing the conflict between the two countries online. Previously, authorities had urged residents to refrain from discussing the situation on the front lines on social media when the conflict was more active, and users who criticized the Armenian government’s conduct of the conflict experienced harassment and intimidation, which had contributed to self-censorship.
|Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest?||24|
The online information landscape in Armenia is subject to political pressure. In some cases, online journalists are not allowed to deviate from the editorial policies of their employers, who in some cases are linked to political parties. Controversially, the wife of Prime Minister Pashinyan, Anna Hakobyan, is the editor-in-chief of the popular news outlet the Armenian Times. In a May 2018 interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Hakobyan vowed that she and her staff would “criticize everyone.”1 However, some observers have noted that the Armenian Times has published a “suspiciously large number of scoops” since Pashinyan took power, contributing to concerns that the outlet is being used to advance the interests of the prime minister.2
Despite these concerns, some analysts argue that undue political influence on the online information landscape is less prevalent under Pashinyan. In a February 2019 interview with Eurasianet, Gegham Vardanyan, the editor of the media analysis site media.am, said, “The media [in Armenia] is freer now than it was under the former government. Editors and journalists told me that in the past there were calls [from the government] to dictate the main topics of the news agenda. Now it is easier, there are no longer calls like that.”3
In January 2019, Facebook announced that it removed hundreds of accounts and pages originating from Russia, some of which targeted Armenian users, that spread misinformation aimed at influencing public opinion.4 Armenia’s far-right is also a significant source of misinformation online, which is spread through an ecosystem comprising social media accounts (notably, Facebook pages and YouTube channels) and friendly websites.5
During the Velvet Revolution, there were reports that unknown social media accounts and anonymous websites shared misinformation about antigovernment protests.6 However, there is no clear evidence pointing to the source of the misinformation.
- 1. https://www.aysor.am/am/news/2018/05/15/%D4%B1%D5%B6%D5%B6%D5%A1-%D5%80…
- 2. https://eurasianet.org/in-the-new-armenia-media-freedom-is-a-mixed-bag
- 3. https://eurasianet.org/in-the-new-armenia-media-freedom-is-a-mixed-bag
- 4. https://newsroom.fb.com/news/2019/01/removing-cib-from-russia/
- 5. https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/armenia-first-behind-the-rise-of-a…
- 6. Hakob Kareptyan, “The Challenges Of Journalism In Times Of Revolution,” media.am, April 29, 2018, https://media.am/en/false-news-cases-yerevan-protests
|Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online?||33|
Since the Velvet Revolution, media outlets and other users have not faced arbitrary economic or regulatory constraints that would significantly impact their ability to publish online. In fact, the Velvet Revolution help drive growth in the digital media sector. Independent news websites like azatutyun.am (of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty)1 and EVN Report2 saw their reach expand dramatically thanks to their coverage of the April-May 2018 events.
IREX’s 2019 Media Sustainability Index notes that only broadcast media outlets must obtain licenses and that “market entry and tax structure for media are fair.”3 While the advertising market remains small, it less politicized, with one report noting, “If previously the advertising spending was controlled (by government circles) and only select online outlets could receive advertising, now it is more liberal, and online outlets can also secure advertising.”4
While net neutrality is not explicitly enshrined in Armenian law, a 2014 government resolution supports the principle.5 A 2008 PSRC decision requires ISPs to inform subscribers of any discriminatory network traffic management policies.6
- 1. https://medialandscapes.org/country/armenia/media/digital-media
- 2. https://www.calvertjournal.com/articles/show/11077/evn-report-media-arm…
- 3. https://www.irex.org/sites/default/files/pdf/media-sustainability-index…
- 4. https://www.irex.org/sites/default/files/pdf/media-sustainability-index…
- 5. http://igf.am/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/IG_Principles_EN.pdf
- 6. https://www.arlis.am/DocumentView.aspx?DocID=77489
|Does the online information landscape lack diversity?||34|
Users are able to access a wide array of content online, primarily in Armenian, English, and Russian. A variety of independent and opposition web resources provide audiences with politically neutral content as well as opposition viewpoints. However, IREX’s 2019 Media Sustainability Index notes, “It is rare for an individual media outlet to include multiple points of view.”1
The social media platforms Facebook, Odnoklassniki, Twitter, VKontakte, and YouTube are among the most-visited websites in Armenia. Many users get their news from these platforms, including from a growing crop of bloggers, vloggers, and influencers.
In a January 2019 Facebook Live stream, Prime Minister Pashinyan declared, without citing evidence, that 90 percent of the Armenian media belongs to former government officials or opposition figures.2
- 1. https://www.irex.org/sites/default/files/pdf/media-sustainability-index…
- 2. Government is not robbing the people and the state – Pashinyan about campaign in media against the government (Russian) , February 15, 2019, https://rus.azatutyun.am/a/29710650.html
|Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues?||66|
There are no restrictions on social media platforms in Armenia, on which Armenian protest movements rely to mobilize citizens and gather support. Thanks in large part to live-streaming tools and social media and communication platforms, Armenia’s April and May 2018 protests led to former prime minister Serzh Sargsyan’s resignation, setting the stage for free and fair parliamentary elections in December 2018, which were won decisively by Pashinyan’s My Step Alliance. Ucom reported a 300 percent increase in internet traffic during the protests.1
Notably, in May 2019, Pashinyan used Facebook to organize a demonstration in response to a court’s decision to release former president Robert Kocharyan, who was (and is again) on trial for abusing his authority during a 2008 state of emergency.2 Several hundred supporters responded to Pashinyan’s call, which the Council of Europe criticized as a potential violation of the independence of the judiciary.3
In the same month, a far-right anti-Pashinyan Facebook group, Adekvad, announced that it was transforming into a political party.4 The Adekvad Facebook group was launched in July 2018.
Just after the coverage period, an Armenian journalist, Lucy Kocharyan, helped kick-start an online reckoning with sexual violence by collecting and publishing stories by anonymous survivors of assault on Facebook using the hashtag #բռնության_ձայնը (“Voices of Violence”).5
- 1. Arthur Papyan, “A sharp increase in internet traffic consumption has been registered in Armenia since April 13,” azatutyun.am, May 3, 2018, https://www.azatutyun.am/a/29206587.html
- 2. http://arka.am/en/news/politics/armenian_prime_minister_comments_on_his…
- 3. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-armenia-court-premier/armenia-told-t…
- 4. https://eurasianet.org/anti-pashinyan-facebook-group-forms-new-politica…
- 5. https://eurasianet.org/armenias-metoo-aims-to-break-silence-on-sexual-v…
C Violations of User Rights
There have been very few cases of prosecutions against internet users or bloggers for content posted online. While Armenia eliminated criminal penalties for defamation in 2010, concerns about high financial penalties for defamation persist, though the number of cases and fines imposed have decreased in recent years. Journalists from online media outlets were subject to targeted violence by law enforcement officers while reporting on the Velvet Revolution, but violence has since subsided.
|Do the constitution or other laws fail to protect rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom, including on the internet, and are they enforced by a judiciary that lacks independence?||36|
The constitution guarantees freedom of speech to both individuals and media outlets, regardless of source or location.1 Armenian criminal legislation grants journalists certain protections. According to Article 164 of the criminal code, hindering the legal professional activities of a journalist, as well as forcing a journalist to disseminate or withhold information, is punishable by fines or imprisonment for up to one year. The same actions committed by an official in abuse of their office is punishable by up to three years in prison and a ban on holding certain posts in the government for up to three years.2 However, neither the criminal code nor media legislation clearly defines who qualifies as a journalist, or whether these rights apply to online journalists and bloggers.
The 2003 Law on Mass Media adopted a unified regulatory framework for all forms of media content irrespective of the audience, technical means, or dissemination mechanisms, including online content.3
Armenia’s judiciary lacks independence from the executive, and it is one of the least trusted public institutions.4 Pashinyan has announced that he would pursue legislation to comprehensively reform the judiciary and improve its independence.5 However, during the reporting period, Pashinyan was accused of interfering in the legal proceedings against Kocharyan and other members of the ousted former government (see B8).
- 1. https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Armenia_2015.pdf?lang=en
- 2. Art. 164, Criminal Code of the Republic of Armenia as amended on January 6, 2006, http://bit.ly/1jxplj9
- 3. The Law of the Republic of Armenia on Mass Media of December 13, 2003, http://bit.ly/2cBhAdK
- 4. ; https://www.caucasusbarometer.org/en/cb2017am/TRUCRTS/
- 5. https://www.rferl.org/a/armenians-heed-call-to-block-courts-pashinian-t…
|Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities?||34|
Some laws threaten the constitution’s guarantees for freedom of online expression, though they have not been widely implemented to suppress online speech. Armenian criminal legislation prohibits the dissemination of speech that incites racial, religious, or national hatred, as well as calls for seizing state power or changing the constitutional order by force.1 These laws apply to expression both online and offline, and some rights activists fear that they could be used to arrest and prosecute critics of the government.
Defamation laws have been used by Armenian politicians to restrict public criticism in the past. Defamation was decriminalized in 2010,2 and in 2011, the Constitutional Court ruled that courts should avoid imposing large fines on media outlets for defamation, resulting in a decrease in the number of defamation cases.3
Armenian laws on pornography and copyright infringement generally align with European legal standards,4 and companies have not been held liable for illegal content shared by users (see B3). The act of downloading illegal materials or copyrighted publications is not subject to prosecution unless prosecutors can prove the content was stored with intent to disseminate it. Armenia is a signatory to the Council of Europe’s Convention on Cybercrime, and Armenian cybercrime legislation is in accordance with the principles declared in the convention.
- 1. Art. 226 and 301 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Armenia, accessed October 22, 2018, http://bit.ly/1jxplj9
- 2. https://ypc.am/upload/Analysis%20of%20Armenia%E2%80%99s%20Judicial%20Pr…
- 3. Guide on Defamation and Insult, 11 September, 2019, https://www.osce.org/yerevan/123446
- 4. Cybercrime was defined under the new Criminal Code of the Republic of Armenia, adopted on April 18, 2003. The first prosecution case for the dissemination of illegal pornography via the internet was recorded in 2004.
|Are individuals penalized for online activities?||56|
Users are not often detained, prosecuted, or sanctioned for their expression online, but defamation cases have been brought for online activity in the past.
In April 2019, the NSS arrested the author of a controversial Facebook page entitled "High Spirit Armenia Open Society,” charging the individual (who remained unknown to the public at the end of the reporting period) with “sowing racial, religious, and ethnic hatred” under Article 226 of the criminal code (see B2).1 Although the page had posted offensive content, rights activists expressed concern that the arrest was an attack on online expression. The arrest followed a call by Pashinyan for a “counterstrike” against purveyors of “fake news” on social media.2
During the Velvet Revolution, more than 180 people were detained in Yerevan, but it is unclear how many, if any, of those detentions were related to online activities such as live streaming.3
- 1. https://www.aysor.am/en/news/2019/04/10/fake-arrest/1549663
- 2. https://eurasianet.org/pashinyan-takes-on-fake-news
- 3. “Almost 200 Arrests in Yerevan as Anti-Sarkisian Protests Continue,” RFE/RL, April 20, 2018, https://www.rferl.org/a/more-arrests-in-yerevan-as-armenian-opposition-…
|Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption?||34|
Anonymous communication and encryption tools are neither prohibited nor restricted in Armenia. Individuals are required to present identification when purchasing a SIM card for mobile phones.1
|Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy?||36|
Electronic state surveillance remains a threat to Armenians’ online privacy rights. Armenia, a member of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, is widely believed to possess SORM electronic surveillance capabilities. The NSS has lawful interception powers, and surveillance without a court order is permitted for up to 48 hours when national security is imminently threatened.1
In February 2019, a Eurasianet report by journalist Grigor Atanesian revealed that the current government is continuing negotiations with Huawei to bring the Chinese company’s “Smart City” technology to Yerevan.2 Talks began in 2017, during the administration of former president Sargsyan. “Smart City” technology, which entails, inter alia, the deployment of a CCTV network loaded with artificial intelligence-driven facial recognition software, raises the specter of enhanced state surveillance and control at the expense of citizens’ privacy. Furthermore, Huawei’s ties to the Chinese government have elicited concern among national security experts in Armenia and elsewhere, who fear that data collected through “Smart City” technology could end up in Beijing’s hands. Following Atanesian’s report, an official from the office of the mayor of Yerevan reported that the negotiations had been suspended.3
The Personal Data Protection Law, which came into effect in 2015,4 protects citizens’ right to privacy with respect to the processing of personal data, bringing Armenian law in line with European standards and international obligations. The law created the Personal Data Protection Agency, which has the authority to appeal the decisions of state agencies if they have the potential to violate citizens’ right to privacy through the use of personal data. Under the same law, government and law enforcement bodies are allowed to collect an individual’s personal data, but only with a court order. Government monitoring and storage of personal data is illegal unless it is required for the provision of state services. Only data obtained in line with to these narrow legal requirements may be used as evidence in legal proceedings. Nonetheless, the courts generally support most data-collection requests from law enforcement bodies.
The Personal Data Protection Agency publishes tutorials to instruct users on how to protect their personal data on social media and on their smartphones.5 The agency began publishing the tutorials in 2016, but only recently made them public on its Facebook page.
In September 2018, a recording of surreptitiously taped phone conversations between NSS Director Artur Vanetsyan and Sasun Khachatryan, the head of the SIS, surfaced on the internet.6 In December 2018, a second set of recordings, which included three phone calls made by Vanetsyan to Pashinyan from Switzerland in July, was uploaded on YouTube.7 These leaked recordings provide evidence of sophisticated surveillance in Armenia, although their provenance is unknown.
- 1. https://mediainitiatives.am/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Internet-Freedom…
- 2. https://eurasianet.org/armenia-mulls-chinese-surveillance-tech
- 3. Interview with spokesman for the office of the mayor of Yerevan
- 4. National Assembly of Armenia, “The Law on Protection of Personal Data”, May 18, 2015, http://bit.ly/1R7RMTT
- 5. PDPA Facebook page where they are presenting tutorials https://www.facebook.com/PersonalDataArmenia/
- 6. Pashinyan Refutes Implication that Secret Recording of Conversation Between Law Enforcement Heads Reveals Government Meddling in Courts, September 11, 2018, https://hetq.am/en/article/92883
- 7. Pashinian Responds To More Leaked Phone Calls, December 5, 2018, https://www.azatutyun.am/a/29639619.html
|Are service providers and other technology companies required to aid the government in monitoring the communications of their users?||56|
Armenian legislation does not require service providers to monitor traffic or content. Moreover, the Personal Data Protection Law mandates that service providers store only personal data required for billing purposes.1
However, under the Electronic Communications Law, providers must make customer data available to authorities “in connection with surveillance, inquest, or criminal prosecution.”2 Upon a court order, they must also give authorities access to “any communications equipment… including wiretapping devices.”3 Cybercafés and other public access points are not required to identify clients or to monitor or store personal data and traffic information.
|Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in retribution for their online activities?||35|
In Armenia, online journalists in particular are sometimes subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence in retaliation for their work. After at least 16 journalists, including a number of online journalists, were attacked by security forces and supporters of the ousted government during the Velvet Revolution, violence against online journalists and ordinary users subsided during the reporting period.
In September 2018, the SIS raided the offices of the online news portal Yerevan.Today after it posted the leaked recording of phone calls between Vanetsyan and Khachatryan (see C5).1 The calls suggested that Prime Minister Pashinyan was pressuring officials to prosecute former president Robert Kocharyan and the head of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, an Armenian citizen. Yerevan.Today, which is believed to have ties to Kocharyan, allegedly received and published a YouTube link to the leaked recording two days before it went viral, arousing official suspicion. However, the SIS’s only evidence for this allegation was timestamped Google search results. Nevertheless, SIS agents seized computers from Yerevan.Today’s offices and searched the editor-in-chief’s home. Local and international rights organizations condemned the raid, noting that it interfered with the outlet’s ability to carry out its work and threatened the anonymity of its sources.2 According to an official explanation, the raid was not related to Yerevan.Today’s work, but was aimed at gathering evidence for an inquiry into the alleged wiretapping of the officials in the leaked recording. In October 2018, the Court of Appeal ruled that the raid was legal, but rights activists expressed ongoing concerns about its potential impact on journalists.3
|Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack?||23|
Technical attacks target both government websites and civil society groups in Armenia, although there were no reported cases of hacking attempts during the reporting period.
In April 2019, the ICT giant Cisco announced that a hacker group compromised Armenia’s top-level domain “.am.”1 However, several domain registrars in Armenia have denied this report, and cybersecurity experts have not observed any unusual activity in the “.am” domain.2
In 2017, Azerbaijani hackers reportedly hacked the Facebook accounts of over a thousand Armenians, leaking the users’ email addresses and passwords in some cases.3 Most of the cyberattacks against Armenian websites are believed to originate in Azerbaijan. For example, in 2017, a large number of Armenian websites, including the sites of various Armenian embassies, were hacked by groups based in Azerbaijan.4
In a bid to improve cybersecurity, in 2017, the government ordered the PSRC to mandate that ISPs provide distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) protection to governmental bodies.5
- 1. https://www.wired.com/story/sea-turtle-dns-hijacking/
- 2. According to interviews with Freedom House’s analyst
- 3. “Passwords of over a thousand Armenian Facebook users leaked to the network,” ARKA, November 28, 2017, http://telecom.arka.am/ru/news/internet/paroli_bolee_tysyachi_armyanski…
- 4. Samvel Martirosyan, “Embassy Websites Targeted in A Massive Attack,” January 20, 2016, http://bit.ly/1LREvwh
- 5. Decision of PSRC on DDoS mitigation service for governmental bodies, http://psrc.am/images/docs/reports/Telecom/234.pdf
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