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Government Wants New Judges For Arrests, Corruption Cases


Armenia -- A court building in Yerevan, June 9, 2020.

The Armenian government formally approved on Thursday a proposal to hire new judges who would deal only with corruption cases or pre-trial arrests of criminal suspects sought by law-enforcement authorities.

A relevant bill drafted by the Ministry of Justice calls for the selection of up to 21 such judges for Armenian courts of first instance. Three other new judges specializing in arrests or corruption-related offenses would be appointed to the Court of Appeals.

“The increase in the number of judges would shorten criminal and judicial proceedings,” Justice Minister Rustam Badasian said during a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.

Badasian said it would also result in “more objective” court rulings on arrest warrants demanded by investigators.

In recent months Armenian judges have refused to allow law-enforcement bodies to arrest dozens of opposition leaders and members as well as other anti-government activists. Virtually all of those individuals are prosecuted in connection with angry protests sparked by the Pashinian administration’s handling of the autumn war in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Pashinian charged last month that Armenia’s judicial system has become part of a “pseudo-elite” which is trying to topple him after the disastrous war. Badasian likewise accused judges of routinely acting in a “non-objective” manner.

Ruben Vartazarian, the chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council overseeing the Armenian judiciary, rejected the criticism.

Some critics of the Armenian government have already expressed concern over its plans to install magistrates tasked with allowing or blocking pre-trial arrests. They claim that the government wants to make sure that courts stop hampering politically motivated investigations ordered by it.

Pashinian insisted on Thursday that the bill is part of his administration’s stated efforts to make the judiciary more independent and effective. He said that the new judges would undergo thorough “integrity checks” during the selection and appointment process.

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