YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenia’s highest court on Tuesday declared unconstitutional a legal provision allowing law-enforcement bodies to wiretap telephone conversations and monitor other private correspondence without court permissions in some cases.
The Armenian constitution guarantees the complete privacy of citizens’ personal communication, including phone calls and regular and electronic mail. It says security agencies can have access to private correspondence of criminal suspects only if they get clearance from courts.
An article of Armenia’s Criminal Code of Procedural Justice enacted after a constitutional reform in 2005 says that such permissions are not necessary if one of the parties to a phone conversation or other forms of personal communication allows law-enforcement bodies to breach their privacy.
Earlier this year, Armenia’s state human rights ombudsman, Armen Harutiunian, asked the Constitutional Court to declare this clause null and void, saying that its runs counter to the constitution.
The court accepted Harutiunian’s arguments in a ruling announced on Tuesday. It obligated the National Assembly to amend the code accordingly.
Many Armenian opposition politicians and journalists have long suspected the authorities and the National Security Service (NSS) of illegally eavesdropping on their phone calls. The Constitutional Court ruling will hardly dispel their suspicions. Skeptics will point out that Armenian courts rarely make decisions going against the wishes of the government and its security apparatus.