Armenian Parliament Introduces Bill Threatening Online Anonymity

The law, if passed, will penalize media outlets that publish defamatory material from anonymous sources


YEREVAN (IWPR)—A bill going before Armenia’s parliament would introduce restrictions on anonymity on the internet, according to a report by the Institute for War & Peace Reporting. Supporters say it should curb defamatory language on the web, but free speech advocates warn that it might also constrain legitimate expression of opinion.

The law will be debated on March 31. If passed, it will penalize media outlets that publish defamatory material from anonymous or fake sources. They will also be liable for online comments posted on their websites unless they identify the author. In the latter case, they will be able to avoid prosecution by removing the offending comment within 12 hours.

The text of the law cites “dissemination of defamatory information through false user accounts on social media” as an increasing problem, and sets out to define who is legally liable when such material appears.

“You can remain incognito as much as you like. Write your posts, but if they end up in the media, then someone has to bear responsibility,” Edmon Marukyan, one of those who drafted the bill, told IWPR.

Marukyan said the proposed law drew on a ruling at the European Court of Human Rights which upheld an Estonian court’s decision that an online news portal was legally liable for the user comments that appeared on its pages.

“Everyone has found out that sites bear responsibility for publishing defamatory comments,” he said, explaining that the purpose of the bill was to clarify liability, not curb expression.

“What we are proposing is either to reveal the identity of these anonymous users, or just removing the content so that the website won’t have to be liable,” he said.

Those likely to be affected by the planned regulations are worried nevertheless.

Blogger Samvel Martirosyan set out his concerns in a piece on his website www.banman.am.

“I am sure that the authors of this law did not have dark aims. However, I think it could be a very good weapon in the hands of those who wish to end freedom of speech on the internet,” he wrote.

Martirosyan pointed out a number of technical obstacles, such as the fact that social media sites like Facebook are based outside Armenian jurisdiction.

In addition, he said, the concept of “anonymous user” was meaningless given that most social media sites did not insist that users register with their real names.

Facebook and Linkedin were the exceptions, he wrote, but even in those cases it did not amount to a legal requirement.

“On other social networks, it is not a requirement. On many sites, the reverse principle applies,” he wrote.

What this means, according to Martirosyan, is that “under the terms of this bill, we are all anonymous users”.

By contrast, lawyer Artur Grigoryan argues for some form of regulation.

“You shouldn’t confuse freedom of the media with anarchy in the media,” he told IWPR.

In particular, Grigoryan said that media outlets should not repeat information from social networks unless they could confirm it themselves. “If something is being discussed on Facebook, let it stay there,” he added.

Armenian media organizations are so concerned about the implications of the bill that a group of them have written to the drafting team asking for it to be withdrawn. They argue that Armenia’s current legislation already addresses all the issues.

“These changes to the law would harm honest users of information sources, and force Armenia internet users to emigrate from the virtual space that comes under national jurisdiction,” their letter said.

Representatives of the media organizations that signed the statement met parliamentarians on March 17. Ashot Melikyan from the Committee for Protection of Freedom of Speech, said the discussions failed to produce an agreement, but that the bill’s authors did agree to look at some of the wording again.

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11 Comments

  1. boghos jermag said:

    This bill looks like something Ara Manoogian (author of the infamous white paper) would have come up with…

    Way to go Armenian government in starting to have the same mentality as Ara “Bagratuni” Manoogian…

  2. Sarkis said:

    Before everyone goes hysterical, take a look at the source of this report: the so-called “Institute for War & Peace Reporting”. A BRITAIN-BASED organization with close links to British and Azeri energy interests, as well as Turkey and NATO interests. Anyone interested to see just how biased and how anti-Armenian and anti-Russian, as well as pro-Turkish/pro-Azeri and pro-Georgian this foreign organization is can visit their homepage and check out their “Caucasus” section.

    As for Internet security, I suggest they worry about the US Government and the NSA’s total surveillance programs. The Armenian law would merely “penalize media outlets that publish defamatory material from anonymous or fake sources”. Defamation is already illegal in every country in the world, including the US and Armenia. I wholeheartedly support such a bill, next time anyone tries to publish obvious lies, such as President Sargsyan allegedly gambling and losing an unbelievable 70 million Euros (about a $100,000,000.00), in a transparent attempt at inciting riots in Armenia based on those lies, justice will be served. This law can only improve the professionalism on the Armenian political scene.

    Let’s not forget that in 2008, even before the Election bodies in Armenia had announced the results of the Presidential elections, foreign-funded media such as lragir and aravot were falsely reporting that the traitor LTP had supposedly won the election. They played a very important role in the bloody riots that took place after, and are themselves guilty for the ten deaths that occured in March 2008. This bill looks to punish and deter such fraudulent provocations in from being repeated in the future.

    • Armenian said:

      So, basically West=all bad, Russia=all good, even when they’re overtly selling weapons to Azerbaijan, and have secured their title as Baku’s chief arms exporter.

  3. Pingback: Armenian Parliament Introduces Bill Threatening Online Anonymity | WentGood

  4. bigmoustache said:

    arnt there laws already for news media reporting false information? isn’t that libel/defamation?
    now are they saying they want to apply that to regular people who comment?
    did they get these new ideas from turkey?

    • Armenian said:

      No, even better, they got it from Russia. Our lawmakers don’t even think anymore; they just wait to see what’s going on in Russia so they can engage in their dynamic and ongoing game of Simon Says.

  5. Hannibalh said:

    Orets or yeresnere shatanum e.sa ain patcarov vor menk espes asats “khelok” enk .Yete menk el otar azgeri nman irents mi lav “das” taink ,aispes cher lini.menk aveli shut mi “knats azg” enk.

  6. Sharkobal said:

    Seriously pathetic! Corrupt armenian government is again showing its corrupt nature. I will rejoice the day this ugly government is replaced by a government that truly cares about Armenia.

  7. Armenian said:

    This is especially dangerous and allows for more censorship and authoritarian tendencies because now the criminal regime is giving itself the authority to regulate what is threatening and what is not. Basically, anybody who tries to investigate their illegal activities will be deemed as a threat and persecuted. Where have I see this before? Viva la Customs Union!

    • Sarkis said:

      Armenia does not have a “criminal regime”, you are thinking of the western war criminals and their stooges in Turkey and Azerbaijan.

      Your blatant lies about the scope of the law are disgusting and worthy of the Turkish lobby. The law does not “criminalize investigating illegal activity” as you falsely claim, it merely criminalizes false accusations of illegal activities against innocent parties. This is important in protecting innocent civilians against unfounded allegations.

      But yes, the Customs Union is a great thing and it will be official in a few days. Of course someone with absolutely no understanding of what an economic union entails like you would group a law criminalizing defamation.

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