An association of Armenian judges accused the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) dominated by government loyalists of illegally intervening in the judicial proceedings.
The video posted on the SJC’s website and its social media accounts at the weekend purports to explain the reasons for the “collapse” of the corruption trials of former Presidents Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sarkisian as as well as three other former officials. It primarily puts the blame on the presiding judges.
It also heaps praise on other judges, notably Mnatsakan Martirosian. The latter is notorious for jailing many political opponents of the current and former Amenian governments. Martirosian took bench in the late 1990s and was promoted by the SJC last year to become the chairman of the country’s largest court of first instance.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian complained about what he described as the slow pace of ongoing high-profile trials during cabinet meeting in November. Karen Andreasian, the SJC chairman formerly affiliated with Pashinian’s party, said last month that he has told his staffers to shoot a video on “the five most famous cases” which would identify “the culprits among law enforcement agencies and judges” and be used for disciplinary proceedings against them.
The judicial watchdog is tasked with protecting the courts against outside influence. It has wide-ranging powers, including the right to nominate, sanction and even fire judges.
Armenia’s Union of Judges said that both Andreasian’s televised remarks and the resulting video constitute a violation of legal provisions banning any pressure on judges and interference in their work.
Arman Tatoyan, a former human rights ombudsman critical of Pashinian’s administration, likewise accused the SJC of breaking the law and “discrediting” the judiciary on government orders.
“It is obvious that this is also a clear ‘message’ regarding future judicial acts in other cases,” he said.
Tatoyan also said that disciplinary proceedings against any of the judges attacked in the video would be illegal.
Ever since Andreasian took over the SJC in 2022, the number of such proceedings initiated by the Ministry of Justice has increased significantly. Justice Minister Grigor Minasian is Andreasian’s reputed friend and former business partner.
The SJC controversially dismissed four judges in July alone. One of them, Davit Harutiunian, was ousted after saying that the SJC arbitrarily fires his colleagues at the behest of a single person.
The video in question was officially shot by the Judicial Department, a body acting as the SJC staff. Responding to the criticism, the department insisted that it did not overstep its authority and only presented objective facts.
Armenian opposition leaders and some legal experts regularly accuse the government of seeking to further curb judicial independence in the country under the guise of Western-backed “judicial reforms.” Pashinian’s government denies these claims.