Simultaneously with the start of the work of the Parliament of the 8th convocation, the building of the National Assembly is tightening control by the NSS state protection officers. The number of NSS members in the National Assembly was unprecedented. The free movement of journalists was restricted; there was no explanation as to why. The employees of the State Security Service closed all the roads from the NA sitting hall to the new building leading to the offices of the “Civil Contract” faction leader and deputies, NA vice-speakers.
Journalists, who previously had the opportunity to walk around almost the entire building, could now only stand in the vicinity of the hall, go to the cafeteria and go up to the lodge. Authorities also made it difficult for journalists to go to their lodge. They demand that the journalists go to the first floor and then go up to the fourth floor in another way, which is puzzling, as the lodge is a few steps away from the hall.
The NA staff left all the questions and concerns of the journalists unanswered. Acting Chief of Staff of the Parliament Anna Grigoryan, who often gave instructions to the employees of the State Security Service, refused to give any explanation about the restrictions during the whole day, saying that she was busy.
Alen Simonyan of the Civil Contract, who was elected NA Speaker today, does not see anything odd that the work of journalists has been hindered throughout the day. Simonyan, who previously headed a media outlet, comments on the restrictions created for journalists as follows:
“A system will be created by which the deputies, officials, who will visit the National Assembly, will approach a specially allocated place, will give briefings and separate interviews. The new system will provide journalists with an opportunity not to have to follow a deputy who does not answer their questions or wait in front of an office for the deputies to eventually get out of the office.”
Boris Navasardyan, President of the Yerevan Press Club, believes that Alen Simonyan’s idea that journalists and officials communicate in special places will result in reduced transparency. “This means that the accountability level of the Parliament and the majority faction to the public will be much lower,” he said.
Boris Navasardyan does not rule out that, if necessary, journalists and MPs would communicate separately during special events, but notes that the traditions that have existed in the Armenian parliament since the first years of independence should be taken into account.
“Journalists also perceive the Parliament as their home and moved in it equally with the deputies, and this had created basis for the transparency of the Parliament, which lasted for thirty years. If what the NA Speaker proposes, theoretically can create more effective conditions for the work of journalists and deputies, the tradition should not be ignored; it would be wrong. There is a serious danger that the deputies will avoid the journalists’ questions, the answers to the most important questions that interest the journalists and the public will not be heard. The mood we have seen in the ruling power in recent weeks gives us reason to think so,” said the head of the Yerevan Press Club.
Officials often complain that journalists carry out political orders, so they should be “neutralized” as they put down. In response, Boris Navasardyan says that, instead of restricting their movement, they have to find reasonable solutions.
“If one starts dividing journalists into groups of asking desirable or undesirable questions, he/she is no longer a politician. Even if there are manifestations of indecent behaviors by journalists, there are solutions for them. The rules of working in the Parliament should be established as a result of discussions with journalists, even such issues as depriving journalists of their accreditation,” says Boris Navasardyan and emphasizes:
“The mood is such that the officials try to safeguard themselves against the society, as they do not find solutions to many problems. Officials are thinking of getting rid of the pressure of unresolved issues.”
We asked Boris Navasardyan why Nikol Pashinyan was announcing in post-revolutionary Armenia that “the press is freer than ever” and why such restrictions are applied now? “This statement was made at a time when freedom of the press was at a high level, although there was no institutional basis. That freedom is quite limited [now].”
Shushan Doydoyan, head of the Freedom of Information Freedom Center, says that the Parliament, being a legislature, applies it without writing a law. “The new leadership of the National Assembly are trying to secure themselves from unwanted questions of journalists, that is why they are imposing restrictions on movement.”