Gagik Harutyunyan

Head of Armenian Judicial Watchdog Resigns


YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Gagik Harutyunyan, the head of a state body overseeing Armenia’s courts, resigned on Friday, May 24, citing recent days’ developments that followed the government’s strong criticism of the Armenian judiciary.

In what may have been a related development, Harutyunyan’s brother, Arzuman, was dismissed as deputy director of the National Security Service. No official reason was given for the sacking proposed by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and formalized by President Armen Sarkissian.

In a letter publicized by his spokesman, Harutyunyan said he no longer finds it “expedient” to head the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) “in view of ongoing developments relating to the judicial authority and courts and my concerns expressed in that regard through the media on May 20.”

“I wish you continued fruitful activities in the establishment of an independent judicial authority befitting a rule-of-law state,” read the letter addressed to members of the council.

The concerns cited by Harutyunyan followed Pashinyan’s May 19 appeal to his supporters to block the entrances to all court buildings in the country. The appeal came the day after a Yerevan court ordered former President Robert Kocharyan released from jail pending the outcome of his trial on coup and corruption charges. The court’s decision angered many allies and supporters of Pashinyan.

Speaking at a May 20 meeting with senior state officials, Pashinyan said that Armenian courts remain linked to “the former corrupt system” and distrusted by the population. He announced plans for a mandatory “vetting” of all judges. Many of them should resign even before the start of such a process, the prime minister said.

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Harutyunyan was among the officials invited to the emergency meeting. However, he did not attend it because of being unable to leave the SJC building in downtown Yerevan blockaded by government loyalists.

Two dozen protesters again rallied outside the building on Thursday, demanding the resignation of Harutyunyan as well as judges.

Pashinyan’s calls for the court blockade were denounced as unconstitutional by Armenia’s leading opposition groups. The SJC likewise said in a statement that any pressure on the courts is “unacceptable.”

The SJC was formed just over a year ago in accordance with sweeping constitutional changes enacted in 2015. According to Armenia’s amended constitution, its main mission is to “guarantee the independence of the courts and the judges.”

The council has the power to nominate virtually all new judges appointed by Armenia’s president and parliament. It is also empowered to take disciplinary action against judges or have them terminated altogether.

Harutyunyan, 71, headed the Armenian Constitutional Court before until being elected SJC chairman in February 2018 by the country’s former parliament controlled by Serzh Sargsyan’s Republican Party.

A Communist Party figure in Soviet times, Harutyunyan had been elected in 1990 deputy speaker of Armenia’s first post-Communist parliament. He served as vice-president in the administration of Levon Ter-Petrosian, Armenia’s first president elected in 1991.

Harutyunyan became chairman of the newly established Constitutional Court in 1996 shortly after the post of vice-president was abolished by the Ter-Petrosian administration. The court has rarely handed down rulings challenging the former Armenian presidents.




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