Legal overview of restrictions on human rights and fundamental freedoms and introduced in the Republic of Armenia to contain the COVID-19 pandemic

In response to the increasing threat of COVID-19 outbreak, the Armenian Government declared a state of emergency (Government Decree No 298-N of 16 March 2020) forcing unprecedented restrictions on civil rights and fundamental freedoms. The authorities have imposed far-reaching restrictions, inter alia, on cross-border travel and media reporting on certain topics including individuals’ posts on personal web pages and in social media.

The government-initiated package of law amendments to the Criminal Code and Code on Administrative Violation (CoAV) have been approved by the National Assembly fully controlled by the majority of the ruling party. New CoAV provisions introduce penalties that can be imposed on media for publication of information prohibited under the decree on the state of emergency. Originally, the proposed draft law also envisaged restrictions on individuals’ records on personal web sites and social media, but after strong criticism from media and civil rights activists they were removed. The package was adopted on 24 March 2020 and enforced immediately.

In parallel with media reporting restrictions, Armenian National Assembly adopted a series of amendments to the Code on Administrative Violations introducing administrative penalties for breaking isolation and self-isolation regime or any other restriction introduced under a state of emergency rules (caused not only by natural hazard or epidemics but also social disorders that may endanger constitutional order), as well as introducing criminal liability for the infection of others by COVID-19 virus and for the breaking isolation or self-isolation regime that caused in infection of one or more persons.

The most recent restrictions of civil rights and liberties have been initiated by the Armenian Government on 30 March 2020 later adopted by the National Assembly during a same day.  The Law on State of Emergency Legal Regime has been amended by a new Article 19.1 that grants the government power to request citizens’ location data and call logs from telecommunications operators. The amendments also confer a power on the government to request citizens health records (including confidential) from hospitals and other medical organizations.

The amended Article 9.1 (par. 10) also grants the Government a right to impose individual electronic tracking systems that all or some categories of citizens would be obliged to wear or install in their smartphones. Non-compliance with the obligation to wear a tracking device or installation of mobile phone application, as well as, its intentional deactivation (powering it off) is considered as a breach of isolation or self-isolation rules and can be punished as an administrative violation.

The National Assembly also amended the Law on Electronic Communication and supplemented Article 49 with a new paragraph that obliges operators of electronic communication networks to provide the authorities with users’ location data and call logs in accordance with the rules defined by the government under the state of emergency decree.

By David Sandukhchyan