Armenian police have opened a criminal case against a Facebook user for insulting Nikol Pashinyan in a comment under a photo featuring the Prime Minister.
Police have stated that the alleged perpetrator violated Article 137.1 of Armenia’s Criminal Code: ‘serious insult to a person due to his public activities. The case was initiated ‘without a complaint of the presumably injured party՛․
RFE/RL reported that police ‘are taking steps to identify the author of the comment’.
Earlier in September, local media reported the police were searching for a social media user named Hrant Avetisyan who allegedly wrote an insulting comment directed at Pashinyan on Facebook.
According to the recently adopted amendments to Armenia’s Criminal Code, the use of obscene language in public has been criminalised, with more severe penalties reserved for those who direct such language at public officials. The maximum fine is ֏3,000,000 ($6,000) or up to three months in prison.
The amendments were criticised by local and international rights organisations.
A coalition of local media watchdogs condemned them as ‘unacceptable restrictions on freedom of expression’ while Marc Behrendt, director for Europe and Eurasia programs at Freedom House, said that the amendments would ‘stifle free expression and threaten the financial viability of media outlets in the country’.
[Read more: New policies threaten Armenia's press freedom]
According to a recent Freedom House report, in 2020 Armenia dropped four points in its ranking on internet freedom.
‘Despite the government’s reformist stance, concerns about political interference in the judiciary and hostile rhetoric toward the media from government officials persist’, the report reads.
Despite the decline in ranking, Armenia’s internet is still categorised as ‘Free’.