By Emil Danielyan
A leading Western human rights watchdog has again subjected to scathing criticism Armenia’s judicial and law-enforcement authorities, blaming them for most human rights abuses reported throughout 2002.
In an annual report issued on Wednesday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said the Armenian judiciary rarely acts against the government’s will and continues to abet “widespread and routine police torture and ill-treatment” of detainees.
“In general, judges continued to display subservience to executive authorities, and did not, as a rule, challenge the procuracy or police,” the group concluded in the Armenia section of the report scrutinizing human rights practices around the world.
One of its highlights is the “lack of independence” of Armenian judges. Citing reports by an Armenian human rights group, Human Rights Watch noted that the local courts “often handed down arbitrary decisions” and “generally ignored defendants' claims of physical abuse.”
The watchdog is particularly critical of Armenia's administrative code which allows the police and courts to sentence individuals accused of committing minor offences to up to 15 days in prison. "At hearings where judges sanctioned administrative detentions the defendant almost always either had no counsel or was absent altogether; often, police would send the papers for signature to the judge at home after work hours," it said.
The report also criticizes the Armenian authorities for their controversial closure last April of two independent television stations critical of their policies. It stresses that the decision to take them off the air was made by a state commisison appointed by President Robert Kocharian in accordance with a controversial 2000 law on broadcasting.
“Ironically, the law's avowed purpose was to comply with Council of Europe requirements on promoting pluralism and independence in the broadcast media,” Human Rights Watch said.