By Karine Kalantarian
A presidential body overseeing Armenia’s judiciary has rejected calls by the Constitutional Court to sanction judges who have jailed scores of people for their participation in unsanctioned opposition rallies sparked by the recent presidential election.
In its controversial verdict on the lawsuit filed by defeated presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian, the Constitutional Court ruled that the mass arrests of opposition supporters contravened the European Convention on Human Rights which Armenia had signed after joining the Council of Europe. It instructed Armenia’s Justice Council, an oversight body appointed by President Robert Kocharian, to investigate the crackdown and consider punishing judges that handed down rulings denounced as illegal by human rights groups.
A senior source in the Justice Council told RFE/RL Friday that it will not comply with the order. In a statement published on Thursday, the 16 members of the body, which nominates the vast majority of Armenian judges and can initiate their dismissal, accused Armenia’s highest court of overstepping its constitutionally defined powers. They argued that the Armenian constitution does not empower the Constitutional Court to issue any orders to the Justice Council.
The Constitutional Court decision was a serious blow to the Armenian authorities’ justification for the arrests of hundreds of people who have attended the street protests against alleged electoral fraud. Many of them were sentenced to between 3 and 15 days’ imprisonment, usually in closed trials and without access to legal counsels.
According to Tigran Ter-Yesayan, a lawyer who closely monitored the arrests, the Constitutional Court had a case to interfere in the crackdown because it violated the due process of law. Ter-Yesayan said the brief jail sentences were slapped by the courts of first instance across the country on trumped-up charges of “disrupting public order.”
The Constitutional Court’s opinion on the arrests was one of the reasons why the authorities reacted furiously to the April 16 election ruling which appeared to give weight to opposition allegations of vote rigging, while stopping short of declaring the election invalid. The authorities were particularly enraged by the court’s call for a “referendum of confidence” in Kocharian. The latter and his political allies have categorically rejected the idea.
State prosecutors, for their part, defied last week a separate Constitutional Court order to investigate reported instances of ballot box stuffing and other irregularities.