YEREVAN — Gagik Harutyunyan, the head of Armenia’s Supreme Judicial Council resigned on Friday, citing recent days’ developments that followed the government’s strong criticism of the Armenian judiciary.

In a letter publicized by his spokesman, Harutiunyan 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 Harutiunyan followed Prime Minister Nikol 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.

Harutiunyan 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.

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.

Harutiunyan, 71, headed the Armenian Constitutional Court before until being elected SJC chairman in February 2018 by the country’s former parliament controlled by Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party.  The court has rarely handed down rulings challenging the former Armenian presidents.

In what may have been a related development, Harutiunyan’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.

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