Statement by Artak Apitonian, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia at the World Press Freedom Conference 2020

09 December, 2020

Dear Minister Blok,
Dear participants,

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the organizers of this conference in a time when the freedom of speech and media still faces serious challenges. This year's global theme highly reflects the imperative of modern times: undoubtedly, journalism should be free of fear or favour.

The freedom of media and speech is a significant achievement for Armenia, gained by our society through strong commitment to and strife for the values of democratic choice and the resolve to defend them.

The freedom of expression, which includes the freedom to seek, receive and impart information, plays an essential role in combatting the current global health crisis. We firmly believe that public health should not be used as a pretext for undue limitation on media. Contrary to the global trends of alarming restrictions and repression, the media did in no way suffer from limitations in Armenia throughout COVID-19, instead significantly boosting its online activities.

The need for objective information sharply augments in times of military conflicts, which was manifested during the last large-scale Azerbaijani aggression against Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh). Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh provided all necessary working conditions and access for more than 800 foreign media representatives. Unfortunately, the other side of the conflict continued its restrictive practice against free media and opted for spreading deceptive information in order to cover up its war crimes committed against the civilian population of Nagorno-Karabakh. Furthermore, during the first weeks of the war, journalists of French Le Monde, a crew of an Armenian TV company and a group of Russian journalists came under shelling and sometimes deliberate targeting by the Azerbaijani Armed Forces in various locations of Artsakh suffering grave injuries. Some of them even received direct threats and demands to leave Nagorno-Karabakh in the Azeri social media.

It is noteworthy that the Azerbaijani aggression was accompanied by organized hate speech and animosity against ethnic Armenians directly encouraged at the highest state level in Azerbaijan for decades. Even after the cessation of hostilities, these calls for violence and brutalities against Armenians continue to be manifested in inhuman and degrading treatment of Armenian captives and bodies of fallen soldiers. Recognizing that hate speech is a precursor to atrocity crimes, it is our collective duty to find the right balance between the freedom of expression and hate speech.

Concluding, I would like to reiterate our firm commitment to the freedom of speech and unimpeded work of the media, the free access to information, including and in particular, in conflict zones.

I thank you.

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