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6.02.2018 | freedom of speech

If the government summons closed sessions in peaceful times it means psychologically it feels itself in hostile environment

If the government summons closed sessions in peaceful times it means psychologically it feels itself in hostile environment
Artak Zeynalyan, Member of the Parliament from the “Yelk” fraction, a Deputy Minister of Health in 1998-2001, assesses the Government`s bill on holding closed-door government sessions since April as "a retreat from democracy and the rule of law."

"If we were sincere in our committment to democracy, the broadcasting of sessions cannot be constraining," he said. "Perhaps not broadcasting the sessions in their entirety during the war times can be somewhat justified, but if the government makes a decision of closed sessions in peaceful times, it means psychologically it feels itself in hostile environment. It means that the government is alienated from the people and does not express public’s opinion. It does not represent its views and work to the public truthfully; it is doing one thing and presenting something else."

According to Artak Zeynalyan, "Yelk" assesses the bill negatively and will manifest its position during discussion of the issue.

To remind: the government approved the draft law "On the structure and activity of the government," which stipulates that the government sessions will be closed. Also, without the Prime Minister`s permission, the members of the government will not be able to provide details on sessions.

"The public has the right to know how public administration is being carried out and whether it serves public’s interests or not. Therefore, holding closed sessions contradicts the principle of democratic governance," said former Deputy Minister Artak Zeynalyan.

We inquired whether the presence of journalists at the time when he was a deputy minister had hindered the members of the government, as the author of the bill, Davit Harutyunyan, insists today. Zeynalyan gave a negative answer: "The government sessions were public. The government [occasionally] could decide to hold closed-door sessions to make specific decisions. " 

It should be noted that, in the past, the journalists did not follow direct broadcast of the government sessions from the press center of the government, but were phisically present at the cabinet sittings, and, naturally, there were no obstacles of taking interviews from the ministers.

"If the government forbids journalists to be present, it contradicts the right to freedom of information, the right to participate in state and local self-government," Zeynalyan noted.

Whereas, Justice Minister Davit Harutyunyan stated that not only journalists are disturbing their work, but also anyone who follows the session and is not a member of the government. "If you argue with your spouse in your family, that`s one thing, and if a third person is present, your dispute will get another shade right away," Harutyunyan said.

"I think, the dispute with one`s wife was a lousy comparision. It is not appropriate: it concerns person`s personal life and this is public administration: they are not comparable," Artak Zeynalyan mentioned.

MP of the Tsarukyan faction, former Social Welfare Minister Gevorg Petrosyan also believes such a comparison is unacceptable. "I am surprised by the comparison because governance issues need to be separated from family issues. The people have formed a government to be able to control the activities of that power. Democracy is also the fact that people can control the activities of the officials who came to power by their votes," said the Prosperous Armenia Party (PAP) member.

"The less they know about us, the better opinion they will have about us"

The PAP has not yet discussed the government`s proposal and has no stance, but Gevorg Petrosyan, MP and former Social Welfare Minister, is against this restriction.

"If a government body works for the people, why should it be interested making its activities not public? For me, it is incomprehensible," said the former minister, adding, "They refer to some European countries`, for instance, Germany`s experience. But then, people of Armenia should trust their government as much as in Germany. But the people in Armenia do not trust the government. Even if the government adopts wonderful projects behind closed doors, people will be doubtful."

Therefore, according to Gevorg Petrosyan, in our reality, it is right to work as publicly as possible.

NGOs engaged in the protection of freedom of speech and information are not in a hurry to make a joint statement or other initiative on that occasion.

According to Boris Navasardyan, president of the Yerevan Press Club, the government is guided by the standpoint that "the less people know about us, the better opinion they will have about us". "It means that somehow they indirectly recognize that there are problems with many members of the government, both in terms of competence and abuse of power, in the means of unjustified spendings," said Navasardyan.

According to him, if the authorities continue to follow this spirit and move forward with this mentality, the next step will be the restriction of media activities.

Marine Kharatyan
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