Judicial authorities in Armenia have somewhat changed the rules for controversial security checks on defense lawyers which have contributed to tensions in the ongoing trials of radical opposition members accused of grave crimes.
The lawyers representing Zhirayr Sefilian, the jailed leader of the Founding Parliament movement, and his three dozen loyalists who seized a police station in Yerevan last year have been required to not only walk through metal detectors but also show objects kept their bags to security guards before entering courtrooms.
The lawyers say this procedure amounts to a search not allowed by Armenian law. Many of them have repeatedly refused to comply with it and been therefore barred from attending court hearings in the three separate trials. They have accused the authorities of deliberately subjecting them to such checks to ensure that the trials continue in the absence of defendants and their attorneys.
The head of Armenia’s Judicial Department, Karen Poladian, insisted last month that the security “inspections” do not constitute searches and are therefore legal.
Poladian and Ara Zohrabian, chairman of the national Chamber of Advocates, issued a joint statement late on Thursday saying that the security checks will be changed to address the lawyers’ concerns. In particular, the statement said, their bags will be checked by court guards in a separate room if a metal detector repeatedly signals the presence of metal objects in them.
Zohrabian said on Friday that the guards working for the Judicial Department will also not be allowed to see the content of lawyers’ documents or to touch their belongings. “This is very important because searches basically amount to conducting such inspections,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “We once again underlined that this must not be done.”
Some of the affected lawyers rejected the changes as insufficient. “The Judicial Department is thereby legitimizing its illegal actions,” one of them, Arayik Papikian, charged.
Papikian claimed that the joint statement by Poladian and Zohrabian is only meant to “tame” him and his defiant colleagues objecting to what they consider a humiliating procedure. He said he will not comply with the new rules either.
The lawyer added that the only meaningful solution to the problem is to install X-ray screening systems at the entrance to courts.