More than a hundred Armenian lawyers will go on strike next month to protest against controversial security checks on attorneys representing radical opposition members in three ongoing trials.
The lawyers for 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 barred from attending court hearings. 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.
Armenia’s Judicial Department insists that the security “inspections” do not constitute searches and are therefore legal.
Still, the head of the department, Karen Poladian, and the chairman of the national bar association, Ara Zohrabian, said earlier this month that the procedure will be changed to address the lawyers’ concerns. In particular, their bags will now be checked by court guards in a separate room if a metal detector repeatedly signals the presence of metal objects in them.
The defense lawyers involved in the high-profile trials rejected this supposedly compromise solution as inadequate. They said on Thursday that they and dozens of other lawyers have decided to go on a one-day strike on September 13 to demand a more radical change of the security procedure.
“We won’t attend court sessions scheduled for that day,” one of them, Yervand Varosian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azautyun.am).
Hayarpi Sargsian, who represents one of the arrested opposition gunmen standing trial, said the lawyers could take more strike action if the authorities reject their demands on September 13.
The Chamber of Advocates, which regulates the legal profession in Armenia, comprises more than 1,800 lawyers. Its spokesperson, Tsovinar Khachatrian, said the bar association is ready to provide logistical assistance to its protesting members despite not endorsing their demands.