By Emil Danielyan
In an extraordinary gesture of defiance, Armenia’s judges condemned on Friday a senior prosecutor who has warned them against making decisions going against the will of law-enforcement authorities.
Deputy Prosecutor-General Gagik Jahangirian complained on February 2 that various-level Armenian courts handed down “evidently lenient” rulings in the course of last year. “We are not going to put up with that,” he told an annual meeting of the leadership of the Prosecutor-General’s Office.
The remarks drew an unexpectedly sharp response from the Union of Judges of Armenia. In a written statement, the professional association said they “discredit both the courts and the procuracy, undermine public trust in justice, and endanger the independence of judges.”
The statement, circulated by the Court of Cassation, argued that the prosecutors are facing increasingly “stricter requirements” from judges as part of an ongoing reform aimed at bringing Armenia’s judicial and law-enforcement systems into conformity with European standards. “For that reason, we advise [prosecutors] to switch from groundless accusations and pointless threats … to concrete actions that will raise defense of state prosecution to a proper professional level,” it said.
The judges added that they “will not tolerate” any threats to their independence and called for an “adequate appraisal” of Jahangirian’s behavior by his superiors.
In his speech, Jahangirian, who previously served as Armenia’s chief military prosecutor, did not cite any concrete verdicts which he believes were too soft on criminal suspects. Armenian courts continue to hand punishments demanded by prosecutors in the vast majority of criminal cases.
Jahangirian is thought to be furious with a major exception to that rule which was registered on December 22 with the effective acquittal of three Armenian army soldiers accused of murdering two fellow conscripts in Nagorno-Karabakh. The Court of Cassation struck down a lower court’s highly controversial decision to sentence the soldiers to life imprisonment on what their defense lawyers and human rights campaigners view as trumped-up charges.
The ruling came a huge blow to the military prosecutors and Jahangirian in particular. The latter personally led the criminal investigation into the still mysterious killings committed more than three years ago.