By Karine Kalantarian
The defense lawyers in the ongoing trial of seven opposition figures accused of organizing last year’s post-election violence in Yerevan walked out of the courtroom on Monday in protest against a highly controversial decision of the presiding judge.
The judge, Mnatsakan Martirosian, decided to hold a planned hearing despite the absence of all seven defendants and one of their lawyers. The move clearly violated Armenia’s judicial legislation which stipulates that a court session can not go ahead if both a defendant and their lawyer are not in the courtroom.
Martirosian last week suspended judicial proceedings against one of the jailed oppositionists, who is due to undergo a psychiatric examination, and banned the six others from attending the trial for ten days for what he construed as a contempt of the court. He chose not to cancel Monday’s hearing despite the absence of Hovik Arsenian, the lawyer for defendant Sasun Mikaelian.
Arsenian informed the judge in a letter that he can not attend the trial anymore because his client renounced his services on Friday and wants to hire a new attorney. However, Martirosian rejected this explanation, deeming his absence “unjustified” and demanding that Armenia’s Chamber of Advocates take disciplinary action against the lawyer.
The other defense lawyers responded by staging a walkout. In an ensuing joint statement, they condemned the judge’s decision as “illegal” and “groundless.” “In these conditions our participation in the trial is becoming impossible,” they said. “We no longer have anything to do in this courtroom because with our presence we harm our clients.”
The judge’s actions were also condemned by Ruben Sahakian, chairman of the Chamber of Advocates. “The judge must abandon the case because he is unaware of the norms of criminal trial and, in my view, executes prosecutors’ orders, making mistake after mistake in the process,” Sahakian told RFE/RL.
“A judge breaking the law has no right to administer justice,” he said.
Meanwhile, the main trial prosecutor, Koryun Piloyan, again accused the defense of sabotaging the proceedings at the behest of the defendants and opposition leaders. He said Arsenian deliberately failed to show up for that reason.
The seven oppositionists stand accused under articles of Armenia’s Criminal Code that deal with provocation of “mass disorders” and “usurpation of state power.” The accusations stem from the March 1, 2008 clashes in Yerevan between security forces and opposition protesters that left ten people dead and more than 200 others injured. The Armenian authorities say the clashes were part of an opposition attempt to seize power, a claim denied by the opposition.