The Supreme Judicial Council, a state body overseeing Armenia’s courts, allowed the authorities on Monday night to seek an arrest warrant for the judge, Boris Bakhshiyan, on charges that were initially not made public.
The Office of the Prosecutor-General shed light on them on Tuesday evening following statements in support of Bakhshiyan made by a senior judge as well as lawyers and opposition politicians.
In a statement, the office said that Bakhshiyan, who works at the court of first instance of southeastern Syunik province, baselessly ordered the arrest of a defendant in an ongoing trial presided over by him. It said the unnamed defendant was arrested for not attending a court hearing for legitimate reasons.
Meanwhile, Armenia’s outgoing human rights ombudsman, Arman Tatoyan, said that he has received a letter from Bakhshiyan’s lawyers alleging that the criminal proceedings are an illegal “encroachment on the judge’s independence.”
According to Tatoyan, the lawyers believe that the case is “connected with his decision to release another individual from custody.”
On January 26, Bakhshiyan agreed to release Ashot Minasian, a prominent war veteran and opposition activist, on bail.
Minasian was arrested on December 1 one year after being charged with plotting to kill Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and overthrow the Armenian government and illegally possessing weapons. The National Security Service dropped the coup charges later in December.
Lawyers critical of the government claim that Pashinian’s administration is also punishing Bakhshiyan for freeing last fall two other opposition figures based in Syunik. They were arrested last summer on separate charges rejected by them as politically motivated.
Aleksandr Azarian, the chairman of the Union of Judges of Armenia, also expressed serious concern over the case, linking it to Bakhshiyan’s professional activities.
A spokesman for Prosecutor-General Artur Davtian insisted on Monday that the move to arrest Bakhshiyan has nothing to with the release of Minasian or the other oppositionists.
“There are no grounds to allege political persecution,” the official, Gor Abrahamian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
The statement released by the prosecutors accused Bakhshiyan’s lawyers of “misleading the public.”
One of those lawyers, Arsen Sardarian, said the arrest decision that landed his client in trouble was made in early December. He said the fact that the prosecutors waited for nearly two months to indict the 36-year-old judge only proves that the latte is prosecuted in retaliation for freeing Minasian.
The prosecutors need a court permission to arrest Bakhshiyan. As of Tuesday evening, it was not clear when they will submit a corresponding petition and initiate court hearings on it.