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EU Ambassador to Armenia Andrea Wiktorin explained what democracy and freedom of speech mean to the participants of the Armenian Democracy Forum taking place in Yerevan.

To note, despite its glorious title, the Armenian press was not admitted to the forum.

She said that democracy, the rule of law, and fundamental freedoms are interconnected and mutually reinforcing and they do not appear out of anywhere; democracy does not happen all at once; it is the result of everyday work, an ongoing process, and that we must all take part in it. She explained that democracy is an environment where everyone can enjoy equal rights, freely express their will, have a voice in decision-making, and hold decision-makers accountable. Democracy means to participate in power and to do so in accordance with the rule of law. To have a separation of powers and an independent judiciary, a pluralism of political parties and organizations, in society and independent media, and ultimately to have strong, transparent and accountable state institutions. The ambassador said that it doesn't happen all at once, but it involves a long-term effort.

According to Wiktorin, there are tangible challenges right now affecting democracy around the world, and Armenia has also faced serious challenges such as the Covid, the 44-day war and post-war situation, and most recently the impact of Russia's "war in Ukraine." She agreed that there can be no peace and security without democracy. These challenges carry important social, psychological and economic consequences. It is difficult to overcome them while protecting human rights. She noted that, one can affirm that Armenia has managed to keep the realization of fundamental freedoms, taking into account that the parliament was in session and the press was reflecting different opinions even during the Covid. As the most important achievement the Ambassador pointed out the organization of transparent early parliamentary elections in 2021, despite the short pre-election period and pandemic.

Wiktorin noted that the elections reflected the will of the people of Armenia to continue the democratic path and reforms, noting the role of independent media on this path. She added that freedom of speech, development of independent media are important preconditions for peace and democracy, as they provide truthful information and we do not suffer from misinformation.

She highlighted that the EU supports media freedom and pluralism as one of the pillars of modern democracy and a forum for open and free debate.

Armenia also needs a strong civil society, Wiktorin said. According to her, the active participation of civil society in policy development and governance reforms is important for achieving political change in Armenia. The ambassador noted that Human rights activists and NGOs have become targets of criticism and hatred, noting that she listened to complaints from NGOs defending the rights of women and children and fighting against family violence, supporting the LGBT community. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not selective, Wiktorin said, adding that everyone has equal rights and freedoms regardless of nationality, race or religion.

According to Wiktorin, the passage of the law criminalizing violence in 2020 by Parliament was a positive step, on the other hand, there is some concern that criminalizing insult or slander could be a serious obstacle to exercising the right to freedom of speech. The Ambassador reminded that under the Armenia-EU Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement, the European Union assists Armenia in strengthening democracy, the rule of law, implementation of human rights and building a prosperous, secure, peaceful environment for the people of Armenia.

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This text available in   Հայերեն and Русский
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