May 14, 2007
Freedom of media/access to media – Despite the fact that the opposition had access to the mass media during the election campaign, and the few days preceding it, it is well known that they were virtually deprived of airtime before that. While Public Television and other media channels, controlled by the government, provided a somewhat balanced coverage of the election campaign, the damage had been already created by the biased approach of the media before the election campaign started. Other important issues of concern to us in this field as civil society representatives are:
a. While the Constitutional amendments in 2005 provided with an opportunity for a more representative and, hence, independent regulatory body, the legislative “improvement” passed in February 2007 ensured that this body remains under the Presidential control until 2011 (note that by that time TV licenses will have expired, and new licenses will have been distributed).
b. The Chairman of the National TV and Radio Commission, with whom the closure of the only opposition channel and persistent refusing of a license to A1+ in 12 tender competitions are associated, was reappointed to the post, a sign of approval and a go-ahead for his policies as the Chairman of the entity.
c. The year was marked with violations against journalists. To name just a few, intimidation used against Narine Avetisian (Executive Director of the Lori television station); intimidation followed by criminal proceedings against Gagik Shamshian (a freelance journalist); attack against Hovhannes Galajian (Editor-in-Chief of Iravunk), and Arman Babajanian’s (editor of Zhamanak Yerevan) unjustifiably strict sentence, etc.
• Freedom of Assembly - The campaign was marred by numerous instances of bans on demonstrations and public meetings of opposition parties and civil society organizations, e.g. the Heritage party, the Rule of Law party, Impeachment, in Yerevan and especially in the regions.
• Freedom of Association – Imposed vs. voluntary party membership, a practice that was widely used in the pre-election period, especially in state-controlled institutions and small size communities in the regions is a blatant violation of the right to freedom of assembly.
• Violence - Murders or murder attempts of officials, as well as murders of local criminal “authorities,” with connections to major political parties participating in elections, took place throughout Armenia. The police beating up of the demonstrators at the May 9th opposition rally in an attempt to instigate fear and chaos among demonstrators, an attempt that failed. With different excuses apartments of public figures were searched and opposition leaders were held in detention.
• Right to privacy - A method, from the inherited KGB toolset box, such as clandestine recording of private conversation was used, which is an act that was not condemned by the authorities, and a criminal case was not instituted. Moreover, a reference to it was made by the President, who formed a judgment on the recording and allowed speculations on the character of the opposition leader at a meeting with university students.
• Corruption - The practice of voter bribing before and during the election campaign as well as on the voting day has become institutionalized in Armenia, and this election was not an exception. The bribery took form of “charity,” e.g. distribution of agricultural products, pesticides, as well as TV sets, etc through so-called “charity organizations” belonging to certain political parties, and direct vote bribing practices. Bribes were offered and/or given to voters and Commission members alike.
• Use of administrative resources - Control over state institutions and administrative resources created unfair conditions for political parties. Institutions responsible for insuring free and fair elections failed to perform their duties. State officials actively campaigned during their working hours before and during the official campaign period. Government employees, as well as employees of state institutions were pressured to make certain political choices by authorities, thus creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. Pressure was also put on them to secure a certain number of votes for certain parties. Law-enforcement bodies were used as a tool to create that atmosphere with their corresponding actions. Ordinary people attending gatherings by opposition parties were threatened by local authorities, and had to go to gatherings of pro-government parties instead. Despite the claimed improvement of the voters’ list, numerous instances of multiple voting, using votes of the people absent from the country took place.
In view of the above, we state that this election was not held in correspondence with our understanding of democratic values and practices. This causes us serious concern about the path the Republic of Armenia is following.