A well-known Armenian lawyer said on Friday that she and her colleagues highly critical of the authorities will try to set up a new bar association that will act as an alternative to the national Chamber of Advocates.
Lusine Sahakian and other attorneys representing radical opposition members currently standing trials have repeatedly accused the chamber’s leadership of failing to support them in their continuing disputes with judges and courts security guards.
The existing bar association, which not only unites Armenia’s lawyers but also regulates their activities, is scheduled to elect a new chairman on September 8. Its incumbent chairman, Ara Zohrabian, is running for reelection unopposed. Zohrabian said earlier this week that he would like to see his opponents nominate their candidate for the post.
“Criticizing the chamber chairman’s activities does not necessarily mean that any of the critics wants to replace him,” countered Sahakian.
The outspoken trial attorney claimed that very few of her colleagues are trying to “fight for the legal profession and human rights.” She insisted at the same time that there are still lawyers committed to “taking over the struggle” and turning the chamber into a “serious structure.”
“If we fail to achieve that within the Chamber of Advocates we will strive to have another, alternative structure and seek to achieve our objectives through a competition between these two structures,” Sahakian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). Armenian lawyers must be “truly independent,” enjoy “real immunity” and defend people’s rights, she said.
Sahakian and her colleagues involved in the high-profile trials are particularly angry about Zohrabian’s failure to unconditionally condemn security checks to which they are subjected before entering the courtrooms. They have to not only walk through metal detectors but also show objects kept their bags to security guards.
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 separate trials.
Zohrabian and the head of Armenia’s Judicial Department, Karen Poladian, said earlier this month that the security checks will be changed to address the lawyers’ concerns. The affected lawyers rejected the supposedly compromise arrangement as insufficient.