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Armenian High Court Head Rejects ‘Political’ Pressure


Armenia -- Constitutional Court Chairman Hrayr Tovmasian reads out a court verdict on an appeal filed by former President Robert Kocharian, September 4, 2019.

The chairman of Armenia’s Constitutional Court, Hrayr Tovmasian, has denounced the ruling My Step alliance’s efforts to unseat him as politically motivated and accused the authorities of seeking potentially unrestricted powers.

“In my view, this process is political and pursues one goal: to neutralize the Constitutional Court … as a hurdle, as an obstacle, as a body that could at some point block political decisions because they contradict the constitution,” he said in an interview with the ArmNews TV channel aired late on Wednesday.

Tovmasian repeated his claims in a written statement issued on Thursday. It came as Armenia’s parliament began debating a draft resolution calling on Constitutional Court judges to replace their chairman.

The resolution drafted by My Step and endorsed by senior government officials decries, among other things, Tovmasian’s handling of appeals against the legality of coup charges brought against the arrested former President Robert Kocharian. It also says that Tovmasian cannot make impartial decisions on this case because of his past membership in the former ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).

With My Step holding 88 seats in the 132-member National Assembly, the resolution will almost certainly be passed. Tovmasian will lose his post if at least six of the eight other Constitutional Court judges vote against him.

In his statement, Tovmasian said he will boycott the parliament debate on the issue because he believes that the bid to oust him is driven by “political and subjective” considerations. He listed recent events which he said highlight ulterior motives behind it.

Those include the May 2019 blockade of all court buildings in Armenia initiated by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and public statements by government loyalists questioning the legitimacy of most members of the Constitutional Court. Tovmasian also pointed to the recent arrests on corruption charges of two state officials linked to him.

Armenia -- A session of the National Assembly, Yerevan, October 3, 2019.
Armenia -- A session of the National Assembly, Yerevan, October 3, 2019.


Alen Simonian, a senior My Step figure and deputy parliament speaker, hit back at the head of the country’s highest court. “It would be good if Mr. Tovmasian was present here,” Simonian said on the parliament floor. “I assess very negatively his latest statement and interview.”

“In his statement he once again proved what everyone is now saying: he remains a representative of the Republican Party of Armenia,” charged the close associate of Pashinian.

My Step’s initiative has been backed by the opposition Bright Armenia Party (LHK). But the other, larger parliamentary opposition force, the Prosperous Armenia (BHK), has refused to endorse it, saying that Pashinian’s bloc has presented “very weak” arguments.

Gevorg Petrosian, a lawyer and senior BHK lawmaker, insisted on Thursday that Tovmasian did not commit “major disciplinary violations” during the Constitutional Court’s consideration of one of the appeals lodged by Kocharian.

On September 4 the court declared unconstitutional a legal provision used by investigators against the former president. Pashinian called that ruling “illegal,” citing dissenting opinions voiced by two court judges.

In a July interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Pashinian accused Tovmasian of cutting political deals with HHK leader and former President Serzh Sarkisian to “privatize” the Constitutional Court in early 2018. Tovmasian responded by warning the government against trying to force him and his colleagues to resign.

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