When people held marches in 2017 demanding humane treatment of members of the Sasna Tsrer group that had seized a police station in Yerevan, there was no criminal law in Armenia that could retroactively be applied to them. There is now, however, a new article which can be used to put pressure on citizens, head of the Union of Informed Citizens NGO Daniel Ioannisyan stated on Tuesday during a discussion on the planned amendments to the criminal code of Armenia.
The legislative amendments proposed by the government envisage responsibility for “public justification or propaganda of terrorism.” The article provides for punishment in the form of a fine or a prison sentence of up to 3 years. It is noteworthy that after the armed takeover of the Patrol-Guard Service Regiment of Yerevan’s Erebuni district, the National Security Service issued a statement in which they labeled the group’s action “terrorism” – an apparent violation of the presumption of innocence. Subsequently, however, no member of Sasna Tsrer was charged with terrorism offenses.
The proposal of the new law, according to Ioannisyan, speaks about the assessment of the country’s political situation by the ruling authorities. “In view of the abolishment of elections and the general destruction of democratic mechanisms in our country, the authorities realize that citizens might be tempted to resort to aggressive measures that can get public support, as happened in the case of Sasna Tsrer. I’m not saying that terrorism should be promoted or supported. There are no two ways about it. But we need clear guarantees that these provisions will not be abused,” Ioannisyan said.
According to him, the article “on supporting terrorism” should not be applied to organizers of human rights or peacekeeping rallies and demonstrations; there are at the moment, however, no such guarantees.