More 180 Armenian lawyers went on strike on Wednesday to protest against controversial security checks on attorneys representing radical opposition members in three ongoing trials.
The defense lawyers have been required to walk through metal detectors and have their bags checked before entering courtrooms. They say this procedure amounts to searches not allowed by Armenian law. Many of them have refused to attend court hearings in the 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.
“We hope that this one-day protest will be enough for state bodies to look into the problem more thoroughly and find a solution acceptable to everyone,” one of the protesting lawyers, Tigran Atanesian, said at a roundtable discussion in Yerevan. Or else, he warned, they will continue to fight against the practice.
Armenia’s Judicial Department insists that the security “inspections” do not constitute searches and are therefore legal. The leadership of the Chamber of Advocates, the national bar association, has sided with the department.
The chamber’s newly reelected chairman, Ara Zohrabian, reaffirmed that position when he spoke during the discussion. “When nobody touches a lawyer’s bag there can be no talk of a search,” he said.
Mushegh Shushanian, one of the lawyers representing the arrested opposition gunmen, denounced that stance. “One has the impression that the chairman of the Chamber of Advocates is tasked with campaigning against independent lawyers,” Shushanian charged.
The one-day strike disrupted the latest hearing in one of the two trials of the gunmen. It was scheduled for Wednesday.
The presiding judge, Artush Gabrielian, cited the absence of 15 lawyers who joined the strike. “The court does not regard as positive the lawyers’ failure to attend today’s hearing because they were obliged to show up,” Gabrielian said, adding that he could take fresh disciplinary action against them.