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Armenian Justice Minister Dismayed By Judicial Scandal


Armenia - Justice Minister Karen Andreasian holds a press conference, Yerevan, November 30, 2021.

Justice Minister Karen Andreasian expressed his disappointment on Wednesday over leaked audio that led to the resignation of Armenia’s top judicial officer.

Gagik Jahangirian, the acting head of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), resigned last Friday following the release of a recording in which he appeared to warn his predecessor, Ruben Vartazarian, to step down or face criminal charges. An SJC spokeswoman attributed the resignation to Jahangirian’s “health problems.”

“Frankly, many things there were not to my liking, including the music that played in that recording,” Andreasian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “And some parts of the content [of Jahangirian’s February 2021 conversation with Vartazarian] testified to all those problems about which I have spoken as a justice minister, as a lawyer, as an ordinary citizen and as a human rights ombudsman.”

Andreasian cited in that regard Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s remark that the scandal has undermined public trust in the Armenian judiciary and the credibility of judicial reforms declared by the authorities.

“I think that this is a very serious evaluation after which we saw, because of health reasons and also other circumstances, certain developments,” he went on. “I cannot say that they fully satisfy us and the society. But we can see a certain healing process.”

Armenia - Gagik Jahangirian, the acting chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council, at a news conference in Yerevan, August 2, 2021.
Armenia - Gagik Jahangirian, the acting chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council, at a news conference in Yerevan, August 2, 2021.

Jahangirian was appointed as a member of the SJC in January 2021 by the Armenian parliament controlled by the ruling Civil Contract party. He took over the body overseeing Armenian courts in April 2021 immediately after Vartazarian was indicted and suspended as SJC chairman amid mounting tensions with Pashinian.

“Not all personnel appointments produce results expected by our government,” Andreasian said when asked about the controversial choice of Jahangirian.

Opposition leaders and other government critics say Pashinian installed Jahangirian as head of the judicial watchdog to curb judicial independence. Armenian judges have since rarely rejected arrest warrants sought by law-enforcement authorities for opposition figures prosecuted on various charges rejected by them as politically motivated.

The opposition as well as some lawyers and judges have repeatedly accused Pashinian’s government of seeking to increase government influence on the courts under the guise of the declared judicial reforms. The authorities deny this, insisting that the reforms are aimed at strengthening the rule of law.

Andreasian said in February that as part of those reforms the SJC should fire this year scores of judges, including those who have openly criticized the authorities.

Jahangirian likewise stated last August that Armenian courts must be purged of “people who have committed crimes against justice.” The 67-year-old himself had been accused of grave human rights abuses when working as a senior prosecutor from 1997-2008.

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