The head of Armenia’s national bar association has been reelected for another four-year term after months of strong criticism from lawyers for radical opposition members that are currently standing trial in Yerevan.
The Chamber of Advocates, which regulates the legal profession in the country, comprises more than 1,852 lawyers. Just over 1,000 of them voted for its incumbent chairman, Ara Zohrabian, in an election held over the weekend. Zohrabian ran for reelection unopposed.
Only 69 attorneys voted against him. Nearly 700 other members of the association did not vote at all. They included most of about 180 lawyers that plan to go on a one-day strike on Wednesday.
They will protest against controversial security checks on defense lawyers involved in the ongoing trials of Zhirayr Sefilian, the jailed leader of the Founding Parliament movement, and his three dozen loyalists who seized a police station in Yerevan last year. The lawyers have been required to walk through metal detectors before entering courtrooms. They say this procedure amounts to a search not allowed by Armenian law.
Armenia’s Judicial Department insists that the security “inspections” do not constitute searches and are therefore legal. Zohrabian has defended the procedure, saying that the judicial authorities have legitimate concerns about a possible transfer of weapons to jailed opposition gunmen. The protesting lawyers have denounced this stance and accused Zohrabian of helping the authorities violate their rights.
Zohrabian portrayed on Monday his reelection as further proof that his critics are a small minority which cannot speak for most of Armenia’s lawyers. “They realize that most lawyers do not share their views,” he said. “And they are very angry with that.”
While accusing the “estranged lawyers” of seeking to discredit him and the Chamber of Advocates, Zohrabian said he will try to mend fences with them later this week. “Even lions hunt as a group because they realize that it’s easier to act together,” he said.
He also called the upcoming strike a legitimate form of protest that might ultimately benefit the bar association.