YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Hundreds of Armenian lawyers staged a fresh strike on Wednesday in protest against government plans to allow judges to fine them for contempt of court.
The one-day strike organized by the Chamber of Advocates led to the cancellation of court hearings across Armenia.
“Our actions are approved by many of our international partners,” said Ara Zohrabian, the chairman of the national bar association. “We will publicize their positions soon.”
Government-drafted amendments to Armenia’s Judicial Code passed by the parliament in the first reading in November set the maximum amount of such fines at 100,000 drams ($210). They triggered vehement objections from lawyers fearing that judges would use the new power to limit their rights during court hearings. A large group of them already went on a one-day strike in December.
Justice Minister Davit Harutiunian, the key author of the controversial amendments, said last week that they have been removed from the Judicial Code before being passed in the final reading. But he made clear that the amendments will be incorporated into another code which the Armenian authorities plan to amend later this year.
The postponement failed to satisfy the lawyers. They insist that the authorities have failed to substantiate the need for financial penalties against purportedly unruly attorneys.
Lawyers representing radical opposition activists currently standing trial feel that they are the main target of the proposed penalties. They frequently argue with judges and are sanctioned by the latter during those trials
Harutiunian has defended the fines sought by the authorities, saying that they are needed to increase public respect for the Armenian judiciary.