By Astghik Bedevian
A recently dismissed judge who was behind one of the most sensational acquittals in Armenia’s history expressed support on Tuesday for Levon Ter-Petrosian and said he is ready to campaign for the former president’s victory in the forthcoming presidential election.
Pargev Ohanian, who was controversially fired by President Robert Kocharian two months ago, said he believes Ter-Petrosian’s return to power represents an opportunity to combat widespread “injustice” reigning in the country. “I sympathize with Levon Ter-Petrosian and forces supporting him,” he told RFE/RL in an interview.
Ohanian was relieved of his duties as district court judge in Yerevan on October 16 upon the recommendation of the Council of Justice, a presidentially appointed body overseeing Armenia’s judicial system. The council recommended his ouster as a result of disciplinary action taken against him by the Judicial Department, another government-controlled body monitoring the work of Armenian courts. The department found serious violations of Armenian law in his handling of two dozen criminal and civil cases.
The punitive action has been widely linked with Ohanian’s July 16 decision to acquit and free the owner and a top executive of the Royal Armenia coffee packaging company who had been arrested on controversial fraud charges two years ago. The arrests came after they publicly alleged high-level corruption in the Armenian customs. Ohanian’s ruling, which reportedly angered Kocharian, was a rare example of an Armenian court defying the government and prosecutors.
Armenia’s Court of Appeals overturned the acquittals on November 29, sentencing the Royal Armenia owner, Gagik Hakobian, and the company’s deputy director, Aram Ghazarian, to six and two years in prison respectively. Both men insisted on their innocence and appealed to the higher Court of Cassation.
Ohanian would not say just how he can contribute to the Ter-Petrosian campaign. “Frankly speaking, I don’t consider myself a politician,” he said. “I’m more of a fighter for justice.”
Ohanian denied that he decided to back the opposition presidential candidate because of having lost his job. “There has always been injustice and I have always felt sorry for it,” he said. “I think that my mission is to fight against injustice. At the risk of sounding indiscreet, I continue to consider myself a judge who constantly fights against injustice.”
Ohanian’s own track record was far from perfect in that regard, though. He was among those Armenian judges who sentenced in 2003 and 2004 hundreds of participants of opposition demonstrations to up to 15 days in prison. Local and international human rights groups strongly condemned the so-called administrative detentions, forcing the Armenian authorities to scrap the Soviet-era practice.
Ter-Petrosian, meanwhile, appealed to his loyalists on Tuesday not to bow to what he described as “psychological pressure, intimidation and threats” by the police. In a written statement, he said scores of them have been illegally summoned to police stations across the country and told to stop campaigning for him over the past two months.
Ter-Petrosian said they should show up for interrogation only if they receive written summonses from law-enforcement bodies. “In case of receiving summonses, photocopy them and send their copies to offices of our Movement,” he said. “If you like, you can consider this my first and, as yet, unofficial decree.”