YEREVAN (Azatutyun.am)—Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s My Step bloc installed on Friday two new members of a state body empowered to nominate, sanction and fire Armenian judges.
The Armenian parliament appointed Gagik Jahangiryan, a controversial former prosecutor, and legal expert Davit Khachaturian to vacant seats in the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) in a vote boycotted by its opposition minority.
“We do not find it politically expedient to take part in the vote,” Iveta Tonoyan, a senior lawmaker from the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party, told reporters. She said her party also has “reservations” about both candidates nominated by My Step.
“In the professional sense we have no problem with the candidates,” said Taron Sahakyan of the opposition Bright Armenia Party. “Our decision is political and results from the fact that the opposition has been barred from participating in judicial reforms.”
Jahangiryan served as Armenia’s chief military prosecutor from 1997-2006 and was accused by civil activists of covering up crimes and abetting other abuses in the Armenian armed forces throughout his tenure. He always denied those allegations.
Khachaturyan is the former head of the governing board of the Armenian branch of U.S. billionaire George Soros’s Open Society Foundations. His brother Sasun Khachatryan runs Armenia’s Special Investigative Service, a law-enforcement agency.
The two men joined the SJC amid tensions between Armenia’s government and judiciary. Critics of the government say that Pashinyan expects them to help increase his influence on courts.
In recent months Armenian judges have refused to allow law-enforcement authorities to arrest dozens of opposition leaders and members as well as other anti-government activists. Virtually all of those individuals are prosecuted in connection with angry protests sparked by the Pashinyan administration’s handling of the autumn war in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Pashinyan charged last month that Armenia’s judicial system has become part of a “pseudo-elite” which is trying to topple him after the disastrous war. Ruben Vartazaryan, the chairman of the SJC, rejected the criticism.
Jahangiryan criticized Pashinyan’s political team for not “purging” the judiciary when he spoke in the parliament before Friday’s vote. He said the government-controlled parliament should pass legislation to “get rid of judges who committed blatant human rights violations.”
Pashinyan accused judges of remaining linked to Armenia’s former leadership and controversially urged supporters to block court buildings after a Yerevan court released former President Robert Kocharian from custody in May 2019. His government subsequently abandoned plans for a mandatory “vetting” of the judges at the urging of European legal experts.