The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has refused to issue an “interim” injunction that would freeze the implementation of constitutional changes calling for the dismissal of the chairman and three other members of Armenia’s Constitutional Court.
The changes passed by the Armenian parliament late last month stipulate that Hrayr Tovmasian must resign as the court’s chairman remain but remain one of its nine judges. They also mandate the replacement of three other judges who had taken the bench in the 1990s.
Tovmasian and the three ousted judges -- Alvina Gyulumian, Felix Tokhian and Hrant Nazarian -- have refused to step down, saying that the changes were enacted in breach of Armenia’s constitution and laws. In an appeal to the ECHR filed on June 26, they asked the Strasbourg-based court to order the Armenian authorities to refrain from replacing them pending further hearings on the case.
In a statement issued late on Wednesday, the ECHR said it has rejected the “interim measure” requested by the plaintiffs because it saw no “risk of serious and irreparable harm” to them.
“Although the applicants’ request for an interim measure has been found to be out of scope, it is still open to them to lodge an application and to pursue their complaints before the Court,” read the statement. “When required, the Court may decide to give priority to certain applications.”
Siranuysh Sahakian, a lawyer representing the ousted judges, downplayed the ECHR’s decision on Thursday, saying that the Strasbourg court is continuing to examine the appeal. She said the ECHR has given the plaintiffs and the Armenian government until August 28 to present it with more arguments in support of their positions.
Alen Simonian, a deputy parliament speaker and close associate of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, hailed the ECHR’s decision. He said it vindicated Armenia’s ruling political team and dealt a blow to attempts to “delegitimize” changes in the Constitutional Court’s composition.
“I repeat that the process is absolutely lawful and the problem [addressed by it] is acknowledged by all of our partners,” he said.
Simonian also accused the plaintiffs of pursuing a hidden political agenda. “They are engaged in a political process and are clinging to their posts,” he said.
A senior lawmaker representing the opposition Bright Armenia Party (BHK) insisted, meanwhile, that the parliament’s pro-government majority amended the Armenian constitution illegally. “These constitutional changes are the result of an unlawful process,” said Taron Simonian.
Prosperous Armenia (BHK), the other opposition party represented in the National Assembly, is even more critical of the changes, having denounced them as a “constitutional coup.”
Tovmasian and six other Constitutional Court justices have been under strong government pressure to step down over the past year. Pashinian has accused them of maintaining close ties to Armenia’s former government and impeding his judicial reforms.
Tovmasian and opposition figures have dismissed Pashinian’s claims and in turn accused the prime minister of seeking to take control of the country’s highest court.
According to the ECHR statement, Tovmasian, Gyulumian, Tokhian and Nazarian claimed in their appeal that the controversial amendments to the Armenian constitution followed their and their colleagues’ harassment by the current authorities in Yerevan. They said the “long process of harassment” intensified after the Constitutional Court agreed in June 2018 to rule on an appeal filed by Robert Kocharian, a former Armenian president prosecuted on coup and corruption charges rejected by him as politically motivated.