“Media Advocate” initiative interviewed Siranush Sahakyan, a specialist in international constitutional law.
Mrs. Sahakyan, the fact that the captured Areg Sargsyan and Narek Amirjanyan are alive is largely conditioned by your and human rights activist Artak Zeynalyan’s prompt and professional work. The ECHR upheld your application and “made demands on Azerbaijan.” How did you organize the process, how long it took to receive feedback and what information do you have about the captives?
– Despite the fact that the European Court of Human Rights immediately applied measures in another context, as a result of professional discussions we did not rule out its application to prisoners of war as well. The point is that the purpose of emergency measures is to protect people’s lives from real danger, to exclude torture against them, as the consequences are irreversible. Therefore, on October 11, we submitted the first application regarding Areg Sargyan and Narek Amirjanyan. Two days later, the court requested information from Azerbaijan. On October 15 and 16, we already informed the court about war crimes against Armenian prisoners of war. A day later, the court took immediate action. Following this precedent, we now request immediate action in the cases of other prisoners of war as well. As far as the information on prisoners of war is concerned, they are submitted to the Court at the request of the European Court, supplemented is necessary, and again provided to us at the request of the Court.
On November 3 one could see, so to speak, a symbolic funeral in front of the UN office. The protesters expressed their protest and anger in this way, noting that the organization is not doing anything, and that its blank statements were made only after the protests. In your opinion, why did the UN take such a position? Are such actions acceptable or effective?
– International organizations operate in accordance to world politics. In the absence of clear standards of transparency, internal control, and decision-making in these organizations, they do not reflect law and justice, but protect the interests of powerful states. I think the anger of the protesters against this blatant injustice is justified; the “nakedness” of those structures should be shown through protest. I consider the choice of protest expression to be an individual decision. I personally would choose another way to fight injustice. I think that protesting must meet certain ethical rules.
Considering or, as some opposition figures note, taking advantage of the martial law, the National Assembly made new changes in the laws, restricting the freedom of speech. Why was the Police given a supervisory function, since it is not a specialized structure, therefore it cannot decide which publications are problematic?
– When exercising the aspirations of total “control”, the authorities, as a rule, rely on forceful intervention. In these conditions, the Police was by far the most acceptable option. A similar role has already been given to the Police in the fight against Coronavirus. We witnessed how the Police could not assess the simplest situations related to wearing a mask. Elements of discriminatory practices have been reported as well. As a result, the fight against the epidemic deteriorated and citizens were disproportionately subjected to administrative liability.
As a result, this important institution became the target of public discontent. At present, the resources of the courts are “wasted” on making illegal, unfounded decisions on administrative offenses. It is clear that the police, moreover, has not the capacity to assess the right to freedom of expression. This problem is difficult to solve even for judges who have taken special training on the criteria of the right to freedom of speech. In these circumstances, without clear criteria, it is unreasonable to expect that the Police will be able to assess, for example, which publication devalues actions related to state security. Therefore, giving such a “mission” to the police is the shortest way to discredit that eminent institution. I consider the police to be the victim of these legislative regulations, not the real beneficiary or adherent.
The police do not say which media outlets were fined, which creates mistrust and provides grounds to think that the restrictions are selective and unjustified, could you please share your opinion in this regard?
– First of all, I do not share the approach that the right and obligation of the media to cover important public issues “dies” during martial law. On the contrary, according to international standards, the legal possibilities of imposing sanctions on the media are more restricted in these conditions. And if the government claims that there is a public interest in restricting the media’s right to cover matters of public interest, then that same interest takes precedence over the protection of personal data. The police had to publish the data on their own initiative in order to prevent future “violations” through them, and on the other hand, to demonstrate non-discriminatory and consistent law enforcement.
Some opposition deputies also mentioned that the new amendments restrict the deputies’ right to criticize the work of the state structures, that the law has problematic formulation. Which ones did you record?
– First of all, the government’s decision to declare martial law in Armenia does not envisage certain restrictions on freedom of speech, but absolute restrictions, which do not follow international standards for the protection of freedom of speech. The prohibitions themselves do not satisfy the rule of legal certainty, and the laws that sanction them do not observe the rule of proportionality of responsibility. It also has no procedural legitimacy. Even urgent, extraordinary draft laws must be sent for opinion, public discussions must be held, and there must be expert opinions, including international ones.
I think this ban on free speech has not been appropriate from the very start, and the control over it is discriminatory. It is clear that the Police cannot control persons or media outlets accessible to Armenians but outside Armenia who share “undesirable” information. On the other hand, the dissemination of unilateral, partial information by the Armenian media will reduce the interest in those media. As a result, in search of objective news, Armenians will become consumers of the views of foreign media, which may really become a security threat in a state of war.