Protesters blocking the entrance to a court in Yerevan.

Pashinyan Tells Supporters to Block Courts, Asks Judges to Resign


YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on May 20 demanded a mandatory “vetting” of all judges in Armenia and said many of them must already resign because they are connected to the country’s former leadership and not trusted by the public.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan asks supporters to block court entrances.

“The people of Armenia perceive the judicial authority as a remnant of the former corrupt system in which plots against the people are constantly hatched and executed,” Pashinyan said in live televised remarks. “To what extent this theory is true and substantiated is a different matter.”

“But the fact is that the judicial authority does not enjoy the people’s trust and therefore lacks sufficient legitimacy to act, which now poses a direct threat to the normal life, stability and national security of our country,” he declared at an emergency meeting with senior government and law-enforcement officials and lawmakers.

“Unfortunately, I can’t conclude that the judicial system is not subjected to shadowy and illegal influences mainly coming from the former corrupt system because these two systems are connected to each other through human, political and other ties,” added Pashinyan.

In particular, he said, Armenian courts have validated “dozens of illegalities” which he said were committed by the former ruling regime.

All judges must therefore undergo “vetting,” he said. “That is, the public must have full information about the judges’ political ties, origin, property status and activities as judges and in their previous capacity, and their individual and professional traits,” explained the prime minister.

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The judges whose decisions have led to rulings against Armenia handed down by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) “must resign, leave or be sacked,” Pashinyan went on.

“All those judges who know deep down that they cannot be impartial and objective must resign and thereby provide an important service to the Republic of Armenia and its people,” he added.

The emergency meeting chaired by Pashinyan came as his supporters blocked the entrances to court buildings in and outside Yerevan, acting on his appeal made on Sunday. Pashinyan urged them to end the blockade in a live Facebook transmission aired right after the meeting. He said the unprecedented action, condemned by the Armenian opposition as unconstitutional, “served its purpose.”

The premier called for the court blockade one day after an Armenian court ordered his bitter foe and former President Robert Kocharyan freed from custody pending the outcome of his trial on charges stemming from the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan.

Pashinyan’s political allies and supporters reacted furiously to Kocharyan’s release, accusing the judge who ordered it of having ties to the ex-president and the country’s other former rulers. Kocharyan’s lawyers say it is the current authorities that have pressured courts to keep their client in detention on coup charges which he rejects as politically motivated.

Pashinyan did not explicitly mention Kocharyan’s release in his public statements. But he did state on Monday that Armenian courts cannot be “objective” when dealing with the 2008 unrest case.

He argued that the Strasbourg-based ECHR has ruled in favor of some of the former opposition politicians who were jailed following the deadly March 2008 clashes between security forces and opposition protesters. Eight protesters and two policemen were killed at the time.

The protesters demanded a rerun of a disputed presidential election held in February 2008. Pashinyan was one of the main speakers at the post-election demonstrations organized by the main opposition candidate, Levon Ter-Petrosian. He subsequently spent nearly two years in prison as a result of a crackdown on the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition which Kocharyan ordered less than two months before serving out his second and final presidential term.

Amid opposition uproar against the blockade of the court buildings, Pashinyan insisted on Monday that he is not seeking to have “puppet courts.” He said that he is on the contrary keen to build a “truly independent judicial system.”

In that regard, Pashinyan told the Armenian parliament dominated by his allies to speed up the drafting of laws that will introduce “mechanisms for transitional justice.” The authorities could go as far to amend the Armenian constitution for that purpose, he said.

Pashinyan has repeatedly called for “transitional justice” ever since he swept to power in May 2018 following mass protests dubbed a “velvet revolution.” But he has so far shed little light on what that would mean in practice.

Opposition Speaks Out

A senior representative of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the second largest in parliament, said the appeal violated an article of the Armenian constitution which bans any outside interference in the work of the judiciary.

“If [Pashinyan] is politically disappointed with some persons he must not express that by exerting pressure on the courts and disrupting, paralyzing the work of the courts,” Gevorg Petrosian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.

Petrosian claimed that Pashinyan’s actions amount to a “manifestation of the overthrow of the constitutional order” and could leader to a “civil war” in the country.

Bright Armenia (LHK), the other opposition party represented in the parliament, accused Pashinyan of disrupting “the administration of justice for thousands of people” and thus violating their constitutional rights as well as Armenia’s international obligations.

“We are calling on Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to reconsider his appeal and refrain from his intention to block the entrances to the courts,” read a statement issued by the LHK.

The LHK also called for an emergency session of the National Assembly. At the same time it expressed readiness to participate in “institutional reforms of the judicial system.”

Pashinyan’s move also drew strong condemnation from opposition groups not holding seats in the current assembly, notably former President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK).

In a statement, the HHK’s governing board charged that the “unprecedented pressure” on the Armenian judiciary violates not only the constitution but also the Criminal Code. Accordingly, it urged Armenians to steer clear of the “dangerous and adventurist procedures” initiated by Pashinyan.

The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) likewise issued a statement condemning Pashinyan’s “step taken against the constitutional order.”

US Urges Caution

The United States urged the Armenian government on Monday to stick to Armenia’s constitution in its declared efforts to reform the domestic judiciary.

“The United States is committed to working with Armenians to support the strengthening of an independent judiciary, which includes anti-corruption efforts and the development of rule of law institutions,” the US Embassy in Yerevan said in a written comment to local media.

“This requires determination, vigilance and a long-term strategy to build transparent and accountable government institutions,” it said.

“The Armenian people have made it clear that they support these changes, and we encourage the government to pursue judicial reform in a manner commensurate with the Armenian Constitution,” added the embassy.

The U.S. mission commented on protests outside Armenian courts organized by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and his ensuing demands for a mandatory “vetting” of all judges.

Armenian opposition parties have denounced Pashinyan’s actions as unconstitutional. The premier insisted on Monday that he is only trying to create a “truly independent judicial system” in the country.

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