Boris Bakhshiyan was taken into custody on February 7 two weeks after granting bail to a jailed opposition figure.
The accusations leveled against him stem from another decision which Bakhshiyan made during a trial presided over by him. Prosecutors claim that the 36-year-old judge illegally ordered the arrest of one of the defendants in that trial.
An Armenian court twice extended Bakhshiyan’s pre-trial arrest by one month in March and April. Investigators did not request another extension this time around. The Office of the Prosecutor-General declined to give a clear reason for their decision to release him from custody.
Bakhshiyan, who worked in a court of first instance of southeastern Syunik province, was greeted by a group of fellow judges and lawyers as he walked free from Yerevan’s Vartashen prison on Saturday.
“Just like three months ago, I am of the same opinion and maintain that this was an interference in my work as a judge, and a crude one,” Bakhshiyan told reporters.
“I continue to maintain that the judicial decision made by me was legal and substantiated,” he said.
Bakhshiyan’s lawyers have denounced his arrest as government retribution for his January 26 decision to free Ashot Minasian, a prominent war veteran and opposition activist.
Minasian was arrested in December 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.
The Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), a state body overseeing Armenian courts, allowed Bakhshiyan’s arrest despite an uproar from many lawyers and the leadership of Armenia’s Union of Judges.
The chairman of the union, Aleksandr Azarian, cited Bakhshiyan’s arrest and suspension by the SJC in a lengthy appeal to the UN Human Rights Council, the U.S. State Department and international legal experts published on Friday. Azarian urged them to push back against what he called Armenian government efforts to “subjugate the judiciary.”
Other Armenian judges as well as opposition groups and lawyers have also accused the government of seeking to increase its influence on courts under the guise of judicial reforms. The authorities deny this, insisting that the reforms are aimed at increasing judicial independence.
Armenia’s parliament controlled by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s party approved in February legislation that made it easier for law-enforcement authorities to indict and arrest judges.