Gagik Harutiunian on Wednesday dismissed as “fairy tales” government claims that the former Armenian authorities forced him to resign as chairman of the Constitutional Court last year to make way for a new chief justice handpicked by them.
Harutiunian headed the court for over two decades, until becoming in February 2018 the chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), a newly established body overseeing Armenian courts. He was replaced in March 2018 by Hrayr Tovmasian, until then a senior lawmaker representing President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK).
Tovmasian is facing growing pressure from the current authorities to step down. On Tuesday, an Armenian law-enforcement agency effectively declared illegal his election as Constitutional Court chairman by the country’s former HHK-controlled parliament. The Special Investigative Service (SIS) said it was part of a “usurpation of power” committed by former officials.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s spokesman, Vladimir Karapetian, alleged on Monday that HHK leaders hastily “forced” Harutiunian to resign in order to appoint Tovmasian to the post before the entry into force in April 2018 of sweeping constitutional amendments. Some of Pashinian’s political allies have made similar claims.
“These are fairy tales,” Harutiunian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “I myself decided that it is not appropriate to remain Constitutional Court chairman while being a member of the SJC.”
The amendments introduced a six-year term in office for the head of Armenia’s highest court. Tovmasian was named to run the court under the previous Armenian constitution which allows him to hold the post until the age of 70.
Harutiunian, 71, resigned as SJC chairman in May this year after criticizing protests outside court buildings across Armenia organized by Pashinian. The latter appealed to supporters to block the entrances to those buildings as he claimed that Armenian courts remain linked to “the former corrupt system.”
Pashinian’s appeal came one day after a Yerevan court ordered former President Robert Kocharian released from jail pending the outcome of his trial on coup and corruption charges strongly denied by him. The court’s decision angered many allies and supporters of Pashinian. Kocharian was arrested again in June.