Justice Minister Rustam Badasian denounced on Thursday a senior judge who has accused Armenia’s government and parliament of pressuring courts.
Vazgen Rshtuni, the chairman of the Court of Appeals, alleged “pressures from the executive and legislative branches” in a December 6 interview with the Pastinfo news agency. He said the courts will not be able to “resist” them much longer unless the government shows respect for them.
Badasian denied any government attempts to control the Armenian judiciary and said that the authorities are on the contrary striving to make it independent. He said that Rshtuni was “silent” when court rulings were for decades strongly influenced by the country’s former governments.
“Now that we are embarking on judicial reforms and pledging to ensure the independence of the judicial system … interpreting some statements as pressure on the courts can only seem ridiculous to me,” Badasian told reporters.
The reforms cited by him involve a “verification of the integrity” of judges which will be carried out by the Commission on Preventing Corruption formed by the Armenian parliament last month. The commission will scrutinize their assets and income declarations. It is empowered to launch disciplinary proceedings against judges suspected of having dubiously acquired assets.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian called for a more radical “vetting” of all Armenian judges in May after a district court in Yerevan freed Robert Kocharian, a former president facing coup and corruption charges strongly denied by him.
Pashinian’s government agreed to water down the planned reforms after subsequent consultations with legal experts from the Council of Europe. In an October report, the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission praised it for abandoning the “headstrong approach.”
Opposition groups, notably supporters of Kocharian and another former president, Serzh Sarkisian, have repeatedly accused the current authorities of seeking to gain control over the judiciary. They have pointed to charges brought in July against the judge who ordered Kocharian’s release from prison. The authorities deny the accusations.
Badasian also said on Thursday that the Armenian judiciary was “corrupt from top down” under the former regime. The current authorities have already succeeded in eliminating “systemic corruption” among judges, he said.