The NSS does not respect the constitutional order: Statement by NGOs

On February 10, 2021, the RA NSS Border Guard Troops made an announcement, according to which it is necessary to obtain the permission of the National Security Bodies for the journalists to work in uncertain parts of Syunik region. However, according to credible claims by journalists working on the ground, the Border Guard Troops began to apply these restrictions days before the announcement.

First of all, it should be noted that the demand of the NSS Border Troops is not legitimate. The laws of Armenia (including the Law on the State Border) do not provide for the restriction of journalists ‘activities in border communities, and the provisions of the Government decision of September 27 on declaring martial law, which provide for restrictions on journalists’ rights (freedom of speech), were suspended by the Constitutional Court on November 20, then lost their force by the decision of the National Assembly on December 2.

At the same time, Articles 42 and 51 of the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia guarantee the freedom of expression and the right to information, stating that the rights may be restricted only by law for the purposes listed in the Constitution. The same is enshrined in Article 10 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

Therefore, the professional activity of journalists in the territory of the Republic of Armenia without the permission of the NSS is legal and its obstruction is prohibited both by Article 4, Clause 3 of the Law on Mass Media and Article 164 of the Criminal Code.

Due to the martial law declared in Armenia, the activities of journalists can be restricted only by the government and the National Assembly, but never by the National Security Service.

The undersigned NGOs strongly condemn the obstruction of the legal activities of journalists by the NSS Border Guard Troops. We believe that this is not only an act forbidden by criminal law, but it also contradicts the minimum standards of a democratic state governed by the rule of law. Thus, the assumption of the functions assigned to the legislature by the Constitution by the National Security Bodies, in fact, contradicts the principles of the constitutional order enshrined in the main law, as not only the rights enshrined in Articles 42 and 51 are violated, but also the principles of separation of powers, grading of legal norms and legality defined in Articles 4, 5 and 6.

We believe that this practice of “Chekist” censorship cannot be effective in terms of national security (see the National Security Strategy of the Republic of Armenia adopted in 2020), and as a rule, leads to the increase of public distrust towards government institutions and provides fertile ground for disinformation and panic.

We, the undersigned NGOs call on

  1. the NSS Border Guard Troops to stop the obstruction of the activities of journalists, which is illegal, unconstitutional, contradicts the international obligations in the field of human rights, and at the same time damages the national security.
  2. the National Assembly to establish proper parliamentary control over the NSS, obliging it to respect the principles of constitutional order.

At the same time, we deem it necessary to underline that the regulation and some restrictions of the activities of journalists in order to ensure the security of the state border and border areas can be exercised by the National Assembly by making amendments and addenda to the law on the State Border which derive from the goals of ensuring security for a democratic state.

Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Vanadzor Office

Union of Informed Citizens

Protection of Rights without Borders NGO

Asparez Journalists’ Club Gyumri

Legal Research and Development Center

Transparency International Anticorruption Center

The Helsinki Association for Human Rights NGO

Law Development and Protection Foundation