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Justice Minister Won’t Comment On Court Blockade


Armenia -- Supporters of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian block the entrance to a district court building in Yerevan, May 20, 2019.

Justice Minister Artak Zeynalian on Tuesday declined to comment on Monday’s blockade of Armenia’s courts initiated by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.

“This was a political process and I won’t rush to make evaluations for now,” Zeynalian told reporters.

Asked whether he would have resigned if he had disapproved of the protests staged by government supporters outside the courts, Zeynalian replied: “I won’t answer this question.”

Pashinian urged supporters to block the entrances to all court buildings following a Yerevan court’s decision to order the release of his bitter foe and former President Robert Kocharian from custody. He said they would thus help to establish “the people’s power” over the judiciary which he accused of retaining close ties with “the former corrupt system.”

Armenia’s leading opposition groups denounced Pashinian’s initiative was as unconstitutional. Human rights ombudsman Arman Tatoyan and the head of the national lawyers association also criticized it.

Later on Monday, Pashinian demanded a mandatory “vetting” of all judges. He said many of them must resign even before the start of such a process because they are not trusted by the public.

A spokesperson for the Supreme Judicial Council overseeing the Armenian courts told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that none of the country’s 234 judges tendered their resignation by Tuesday afternoon.

Zeynalian stressed the need for an urgent reform of Armenia’s judicial system which has long suffered from corruption and lack of independence. “It is now even more imperative to introduce transitional justice because we are short of time,” he said. “We must create independent, impartial and, as was said [by Pashinian,] non-puppet courts.”

Accordingly, the minister voiced support of the idea of judicial “vetting.”

According to Lilit Makunts, the parliamentary leader of the ruling My Step alliance, lawmakers have already started working on a bill on vetting. Makunts declined to give any details, saying only that the bill be drafted soon.

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