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Armenian Ombudsman Sees Government Pressure On Courts


Armenia -- Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian chairs a meeting with senior law-enforcement and judicial officials, Yerevan, November 30, 2020.

Armenia’s human rights ombudsman criticized Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on Tuesday for summoning judges to a meeting with senior law-enforcement officials, saying that the move amounted to pressure on courts.

Pashinian met on Monday with the heads of Armenian law-enforcement agencies, Justice Minister Rustam Badasian as well as several senior judges and members of a state judicial watchdog to discuss ongoing criminal investigations into riots that broke out in Yerevan on November 10 following the announcement of a Russian-brokered ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Pashinian seemed upset with Armenian court’s refusal to sanction the pre-trial arrest of many of the individuals arrested on charges of ransacking key government buildings and beating up parliament speaker Ararat Mirzoyan.

“Two individuals were arrested in connection with the attack on the National Assembly chairman, while the arrest warrant for another individual was rejected [by a court,]” he complained during the meeting.

“The key question is as follows: what is our evaluation and to what extent does this situation constitute an appropriate [judicial] reaction to the incident?” he said.

The prime minister’s office did not release details of Pashinian’s ensuing discussion with officials present at the meeting.

Opposition figures and other critics of the Armenian government deplored the very fact of the meeting, accusing Pashinian of pressuring judges and the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) tasked with monitoring courts. Ombusdman Arman Tatoyan added his voice to the criticism.

Armenia -- Human Rights Defender Arman Tatoyan speaks to RFE/RL, Yerevan, March 13, 2019.
Armenia -- Human Rights Defender Arman Tatoyan speaks to RFE/RL, Yerevan, March 13, 2019.

“I consider especially unacceptable the participation of several judges and members of the Supreme Judicial Council in the discussion,” Tatoyan said in a statement. “This kind of discussions jeopardize the independence and authority of the judicial system.”

Vigen Kocharian, an SJC member, insisted that there was nothing wrong with his and his colleagues’ presence at the meeting chaired by Pashinian.

“Members of the Supreme Judicial Council have no levers to influence decisions made by judges in one or another criminal case,” Kocharian said, adding that the controversial meeting was “of general nature” and did not put judicial indepence at risk.

Incidentally, the chairman of the SJC, Ruben Vartazarian, was not invited to the meeting. Recent reports in the Armenian press have said that Vartazarian sees government efforts to influence the judiciary and is concerned by them.

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