The Authorities Will Try to Silence the Election Observers. Human Rights Defenders
20.10.2016
12:00
The adoption of the amendments to the Electoral Code and the related laws at the National Assembly on October 20, that specifically include the provision about "false denunciation", attains political goals and is cast against the free activity of observers and the media. Avetik Ishkhanyan, Chairman of the Helsinki Committee of Armenia, said during the discussion at Media Center on October 20.

The parliamentary factions of the ruling and opposition parties (with the exception of "Heritage" Party) came to a compromise on the publication of lists of voters. However, the government added another provision in the package of legal amendments, under which a citizen, making a report about a voting on behalf of another person, can be subjected to criminal liability if it does not correspond to reality. At the same time, according to the amendments, if a citizen makes a report about the cases of double voting or voting instead of anyone else after the publication of the voter lists and the electoral commission does not submit evidence denying the cases of fraud within 48 hours, this statement is considered true with the presumption of the validity.

On the other hand, if the applicant's statement is untrue and false data were provided intentionally, the citizen will be subjected to 2 years in prison, but if a person made the false statement inaccurately, a fine of up to 200-800 times of the minimum wage is anticipated.

According to Ishkhanyan, agreeing to publish the lists of voters, the authorities established such a legal mechanism that people would refuse to submit appeals. “The government expects the appeals to be much fewer as people will not complain, escaping from the criminal responsibility. It is not clear if this is the way the authorities want to increase the public trust towards the elections,” Ishkahnyan said and added that if  a case was filed based on the provision of "false denunciation", they would consider it a political persecution. “They shut our months in that way in order we do not speak about violations,” the speaker said, describing it as a veiled intimidation, especially in relation to observing groups.

At the same time based on the legislative amendments, in addition to the publication of the lists of voters, it is proposed to install cameras in all two thousand polling stations of Armenia, to broadcast the voting and counting process live.

Artur Sakunts, Chairman of Helsinki Citizens' Assembly Vanadzor Office, thinks that the agreement between governmental and non-governmental forces over the legislative amendments is entirely addressed against observers. "I see a trend here that the whole mood of these amendments is addressed to increasing the pressure on the observation mission, through restrictions," he said, adding that there were cases when the citizen found out that someone had already voted instead of him/her, but the investigation showed that the person just confused and the appeal was cancelled. "If a citizen cancels his/her appeal, I, the one who made a report, will be exposed to criminal liability for false denunciation," he said.

At the same time, human rights defenders did not exclude that there is a political trade behind the agreement of the ruling and opposition political forces over these amendments. "The whole trade is about grabbing seats in the future National Assembly. I see the adoption of this law in this context. If the forty percent of the National Assembly comprised principled opposition, this provision would not only be adopted, but the government would not dare to bring this article, even if they had the majority,"Avetik Ishkhanyan said.

Both speakers, whose organizations conduct observation missions during elections, said that even if this legislative provision was adopted, they would continue to make reports regarding the violations during the elections.

Earlier human rights defenders and media organizations made a statement against this provision. They required removing this provision from the Criminal Code, as it would enable to apply the "whole arsenal of election frauds" without any punishment.  

Arshaluys Mghdesyan, editor/events coordinator at “Media Center”

To contact the author please send an email to arshaluismghdesyan@pjc.am.

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