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MINSK -- Belarusian authorities may raise the age of consent for homosexuals.

RFE/RL on February 13 obtained a letter signed by Deputy Health Minister Dzmitry Pinevich addressed to social groups opposing the criminalization of domestic violence, which says the ministry "stands for propaganda of traditional family values and supports proposed amendments to the criminal and administrative codes."

The Health Ministry "supports introduction of criminal and administrative liability for spreading information discrediting the institute of family and marriage relations. [The ministry] also stands for raising from 16 to 18 years the consent age for the activities of sexual character between individuals of the same sex," the letter said.

Health Ministry officials refused to comment on the letter, asking RFE/RL to provide them with a written request for comments and promising to answer all questions as soon as possible.

Homosexuality was decriminalized in Belarus in 1994, but anti-gay sentiment among many Belarusians remains strong.

The Belarusian parliament said earlier this month that President Alyaksandr Lukashenka had asked them to amend the country's Criminal and Administrative codes. No details were provided at the time.

Qnar Manukian, the editor of the daily Zhoghovurd, is facing criminal proceedings for refusing to reveal her sources, RSF said.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is raising alarm over an "increase in the harassment" of journalists in Armenia, who the watchdog says are being subjected to defamation suits and attacks on their right to protect their sources.

"We are disturbed by the tendency for Armenian media to be sued or prosecuted," Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF's Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, said in a statement on February 12.

Cavelier said Armenia's judicial system "is being manipulated for partisan purposes to bring abusive legal proceedings designed to gag and obstruct media by forcing them dedicate a lot of resources to defending themselves."

The number of lawsuits alleging defamation or insult has tripled in the past four years, with Armenia's justice department reporting 74 cases last year compared to 24 in 2016, RSF said.

It said the lawsuits against journalists and media outlets were usually brought by politicians or businessmen, and sometimes by other media.

Cavelier urged the authorities to promote the use of existing nonjudicial solutions to settle disputes in order to "avoid criminalizing journalism."

RSF cited the case of Sona Harutyunian, a journalist working for the news website, who was sued by pro-opposition news site for suggesting in a Facebook post that was owned by former President Robert Kocharian.

A court has ruled that she should have "quoted her source" and "verified the facts" although she was "just expressing an opinion on an informal platform," the Paris-based media freedom group said.

As a result, Harutyunian had to post a retraction of her comments on Facebook on January 31.

Another victim of harassment is Qnar Manukian, the editor of the daily Zhoghovurd, who is facing criminal proceedings for refusing to reveal her sources, RSF said.

"More and more journalists are being summoned for questioning about stories they have covered although Article 5 of Armenia's mass-media law supposedly guarantees the confidentiality of their sources," according to RSF.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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