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Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian has lashed out at Armenian defense attorneys, saying that many of them do not seek justice and behave with “impudence” in court to make a name for themselves. The harsh criticism drew an angry rebuttal from the head of Armenia’s bar association.

“Sometimes lawyers’ defense is aimed at not defending their client but forming their own image,” Hovsepian said in a speech late on Monday.

“I would like to see quality lawyers and have worthy rivals [of prosecutors] in Armenia. Not people who try to show just how good they are by disrespecting the court,” he added.

The powerful prosecutor appeared to single out defense lawyers in the high-profile trials of dozens of opposition members and supporters that were arrested following last year’s disputed presidential election. At least four of those lawyers walked out of courts in protest against what they see illegal decisions taken by judges against their clients. They were subsequently charged with contempt of court and now face a ban on legal practice and up to three years’ imprisonment.

Armenia -- Ruben Sahakian, chairman of the Armenian Chamber of Advocates.
Ruben Sahakian, a veteran lawyer heading the Armenian Chamber Of Advocates, countered on Tuesday that his colleagues’ defiant statements and actions were justified because of what he sees as unprecedented violations of due process. “I witnessed a cynical, savage and hooligan behavior and impudent violations of law on the part of both judges and prosecutors,” he told RFE/RL.

Sahakian claimed that Armenia’s security apparatus and judiciary have grown “mired in violations.” “Mr. Prosecutor-General, let us jointly analyze those violations in the presence of media representatives,” he said, challenging Hovsepian.

Armenian judges rarely make decisions going against the will of the government and prosecutors, and this has been particularly true for their handling of the controversial criminal cases against jailed oppositionists. Many of them were given prison sentences solely on the basis of police testimony, a practice strongly condemned by local and international human rights organizations.

Armenian courts have also ignored torture allegations made by some witnesses in the politically charged trials. Those witnesses claimed to have been forced to falsely incriminate oppositionists and retracted their pre-trial testimony in the court.
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