A group of Armenian lawyers went on a symbolic brief strike on Thursday to protest against a government bill that will allow judges to fine them for contempt of court.
One of the government-drafted amendments to Armenia’s Judicial Code passed by the parliament in the first reading sets the maximum amount of such fines at 100,000 drams ($210).
The protesting lawyers announced the 10-minute strike during one of the ongoing trials of radical opposition members who seized a police station in Yerevan in July 2016. They all represent the arrested gunmen.
“This is ludicrous,” said one of the lawyers, Tigran Hayrapetian. “Through that law they want to restrict a right given by the [Armenian] constitution and international conventions. Lawyers’ rights cannot be restricted.”
“We want to show that legal advocacy and human rights advocacy must not be restricted in an unfounded and illegal way,” said another attorney.
Tigran Atanesian, another lawyer, also condemned the measure as a “disgrace.” “This is an unacceptable norm that will kill advocacy in our county,” Atanesian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “It will serve as a stick in the hands of judges which will be used for suppressing lawyers.”
The protesting lawyers threatened more acts of “civil disobedience” if the controversial amendment is approved by the National Assembly in the final reading.
Court hearings in the three high-profile trials have been frequently disrupted by bitter wrangling between the presiding judges and the defendants and their lawyers. The latter have been routinely barred from hearings for contempt of court.