A spokesman for Prosecutor-General Artur Davtian said on Monday that he has asked Armenia’s Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) to allow the National Security Service (NSS) to indict and arrest Boris Bakhshiyan, who works at the court of first instead of Syunik province.
He refused to reveal the accusations which the NSS wants to bring against Bakhshiyan, citing the “secrecy” of the investigation and the need to show respect for the judge.
Aleksandr Azarian, the chairman of the Union of Judges of Armenia, expressed serious concern over the criminal proceedings, linking them to Bakhshiyan’s professional activities.
“We will closely monitor further developments and come up with an appropriate statement if necessary,” Azarian said in a statement.
As recently as on January 26, Bakhshiyan agreed to grant bail to Ashot Minasian, a prominent war veteran and opposition activist arrested on December 1.
Minasian and three other opposition figures were charged in November 2020 with plotting to kill Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and overthrow his government. The NSS claimed to have found large quantities of weapons and ammunition in a Syunik property belonging to Minasian.
Later in December 2021, the NSS dropped the coup charges strongly denied by all four men. But Minasian remained accused of illegal arms and was not set free until last week’s decision made by the Syunik judge.
Bakhshiyan also freed last fall two local government officials from Syunik affiliated with the main opposition Hayastan alliance. They were arrested last summer on separate charges rejected by them as politically motivated.
Erik Aleksanian, a trial attorney critical of the Armenian government, said Bakhshiyan is prosecuted because he freed the oppositionists. He claimed that the authorities want to punish him for those decisions and discourage other judges from thwarting politically motivated criminal cases.
Prosecutor-General Davtian’s spokesman, Gor Abrahamian, denied that. Speaking with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service, Abrahamian said that the move to arrest Bakhshiyan has nothing to with Minasian’s release and that it stems from “an incident that occurred much earlier.”
In recent months, Armenian opposition groups, lawyers and some judges have accused the authorities of seeking to increase government influence on Armenian courts under the guise of judicial reforms. The authorities deny this, insisting that the reforms are on increasing judicial independence in the country.
A controversial government bill enacted last year empowered the Armenian Ministry of Justice to demand disciplinary action against judges by the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), a state body overseeing Armenian courts.
In a joint statement issued in early January, a dozen judges, among them Azarian, accused Justice Minister Karen Andreasian of abusing that authority to try to bully them and their colleagues known for their independence.