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Election Of Anti-Corruption Court Judge Sparks Controversy In Armenia


Armenia - Judge Mnatsakan Martirosian presides over the trial of opposition figure Avetik Chalabian, Yerevan, August 1, 2022.

The election of a judge with a controversial track record has sparked criticism from political circles and civil society in Armenia.

Mnatsakan Martirosian, who has been presiding over a number of politically charged cases under different Armenian governments in the past two decades, was appointed judge of the newly established Anti-Corruption Court earlier this week.

A number of judgments passed by Martirosian were overruled by later judgments passed by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

After the 2018 “Velvet Revolution” Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian who swept to power on a platform promising sweeping anti-corruption reforms stated that “all judges who have issued judgments with gross violations of citizens’ rights, which is confirmed by the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, must resign or be removed from their positions.”

On Monday, however, Martirosian was elected judge of the Anti-Corruption Court in a secret ballot conducted by members of the Highest Court ensuring the independence of judges.

Armen Khachatrian, an expert on legal issues of the Armenian National Congress (HAK), an opposition political party led by former Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrosian, said that HAK members suffered the most in the post-election government crackdown in 2008 and subsequent trials, some of which were presided over by Martirosian.

Armen Khachatrian
Armen Khachatrian

He claimed that Martirosian was rubberstamping government-ordered guilty verdicts to opposition supporters charged with organizing mass disturbances during protests disputing the outcome of the 2008 presidential election that were violently dispersed by security forces, with 10 people killed in the streets of Yerevan.

The ECtHR in recent years passed a series of judgments against Armenia and in favor of the opposition members convicted by Armenian courts over a decade ago, including under the presidency of Judge Martirosian.

Khachatrian claimed that the election of Martirosian as a judge of the Anti-Corruption Court “shows that Mnatsakan Martirosians are a lasting value in Armenia’s justice system.”

“With all its decisions the European Court, in fact, called into question the event of a crime in general. Was there a crime at all or not? If Mnatsakan Martirosian is re-appointed to a position in the Armenian judiciary, naturally, it will mean that all the 2008 sentences will basically have to remain unchanged,” Khachatrian said.

Last year, the ECtHR concluded that the rights of current Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, then an opposition member supporting Ter-Petrosian, were violated by the guilty verdict passed by Martirosian in 2010. After this ECtHR ruling Pashinian was acquitted in Armenia.

Khachatrian claimed that the current government favors loyalism among judges like previous Armenian authorities did.

“The current government increasingly wants to fulfill its five-year plan in three years and become like and even outdo the previous regimes. This government clearly shows that it is going to use these judges, at least it does not exclude that it will leave untouched those judges who previously provided services to authorities in order to use similar services from them whenever necessary,” the HAK member claimed.

Martirosian also passed a verdict in the case of a group of residents of central Yerevan evicted from their homes to clear the way for a large-scale redevelopment project. Years later the ECtHR came to the conclusion that the Armenian government had violated the right of a citizen to the free use of their property and ordered that the government pay more than 1.6 million euros to the applicant’s family.

Human rights activists and representatives of civil society level criticism at the prime minister, claiming that he has failed to deliver on his promise of drastic reforms of the judiciary.

Levon Barseghian
Levon Barseghian

Levon Barseghian, president of the Asparez journalists’ club who actively supported the Pashinian-led movement that resulted in the 2018 “Velvet Revolution”, further claimed that Pashinian did not seek even seek to reform the judicial system.

“There was a time when I thought that he was not able to, that he had no sufficient knowledge, no proper advisers. Now I am gradually starting to think that he simply does not want it,” Barseghian said, referring to Pashinian’s earlier statements about the need of transitional justice and a vetting process for judges.

Pashinian and members of his government have not yet publicly responded to criticism around the election of Martirosian.

Martirosian declined to answer questions from RFE/RL’s Armenian Service, saying that they could be sent to the judicial department.

The Supreme Judicial Council, which is headed by Karen Andreasian, who quit the Civil Contract party of the prime minister to be elected to that post, also did not comment on Martirosian’s election immediately.

The conclusions of two structures and one international expert verifying the integrity of the judge have not been published yet, but a leading civil society representative said they were all negative.

Daniel Ioannisian
Daniel Ioannisian

Daniel Ioannisian, who heads the Union of Informed Citizens NGO, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that the Union as an independent body, the international expert and the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption gave a negative conclusion, and, furthermore, Martirosian was the only candidate who did not have a positive profile.

“It turns out that profiles are advisory in nature and this requirement of the law is a formality,” Ioannisian said.

“Here the question also arises as to why the institution of integrity checks and conclusions was introduced in the first place, if a person with negative conclusions can still be appointed to a position,” he added.

Under the law the president makes the appointment of an Anti-Corruption Court judge. Civil society representatives say they expect President Vahagn Khachaturian to refuse to appoint Martirosian as a judge.

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