Opposition Lawmakers Barred From Conference On Judicial Reforms

By Asbarez | Wednesday, 08 June 2022

YEREVAN (Azatutyun.am)—Opposition lawmakers were not allowed to attend on Wednesday an international conference in Yerevan organized by Armenia’s Constitutional Court and the Council of Europe.

The conference brought together Armenian government officials, senior judges, representatives of Western-funded nongovernmental organizations as well as European diplomats and the head of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, Claire Bazy Malaurie. They discussed ways of reforming the Armenian judiciary and making it a “guarantor of democracy.”

Several opposition members of Armenia’s parliament also tried to participate in the forum but were barred from entering a conference hall of a Yerevan hotel where it was held. They expressed outrage at the ban.
Organizers also seriously restricted media access to the conference. Only two media outlets, the government-funded Armenian Public Television and Armenpress news agency, were allowed to cover it.
“They talk about the judicial branch and its independence. How can this [event] be so closed?” one of the lawmakers, Aram Vartevanyan, told reporters outside the hotel.

Another deputy, Hayk Mamijanyan, said the two opposition blocs represented in the parliament will likely lodge a complaint to the Council of Europe leadership in Strasbourg. He accused European officials of discrediting “European values” promoted by them in Armenia.

The opposition parliamentarians were similarly barred from taking part on May 20 in a “forum for democracy” attended by senior Armenian officials and the Yerevan-based ambassadors of the European Union and the United States.

The Hayastan and Pativ Unem blocs have repeatedly accused the West of turning a blind eye to human rights abuses and other undemocratic practices in Armenia since launching on May 1 sustained street protests aimed at forcing Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to resign.

Opposition leaders had earlier echoed claims by some Armenian judges and lawyers that Pashinian’s government is trying to increase its influence on courts under the guise of judicial reforms backed by the EU and the U.S. The government maintains that the reforms are aimed at increasing judicial independence.

The head of the EU Delegation in Yerevan, Andrea Wiktorin, commented on ongoing political developments in Armenia when she addressed Wednesday’s conference. Armenpress quoted her as urging all political factions to “reduce tensions” and saying that police should refrain from the excessive use of force against anti-government protesters.

Wiktorin said that the authorities are already properly investigating some of the violent incidents that happened during the protests. “This is how democracy works,” she said, pointing to unspecified decisions made by Armenian courts.

It was not clear whether the diplomat referred to decisions allowing the pre-trial arrests of over two dozen opposition activists accused of assaulting police officers or government supporters. The opposition rejects the accusations as politically motivated.

Vartevanyan accused Wiktorin of encouraging “police brutality” against protesters when he led an opposition demonstration outside the EU mission in Yerevan on Tuesday.