YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Monday demanded a mandatory “vetting” of all judges in Armenia and said many of them must already resign because they are connected to the country’s former leadership and not trusted by the public.
“The people of Armenia perceive the judicial authority as a remnant of the former corrupt system in which plots against the people are constantly hatched and executed,” Pashinyan said in live televised remarks. “To what extent this theory is true and substantiated is a different matter.”
“But the fact is that the judicial authority does not enjoy the people’s trust and therefore lacks sufficient legitimacy to act, which now poses a direct threat to the normal life, stability and national security of our country,” he declared at an emergency meeting with senior government and law-enforcement officials and lawmakers.
“Unfortunately, I can’t conclude that the judicial system is not subjected to shadowy and illegal influences mainly coming from the former corrupt system because these two systems are connected to each other through human, political and other ties,” added Pashinyan.
In particular, he said, Armenian courts have validated “dozens of illegalities” which he said were committed by the former ruling regime.
All judges must therefore undergo “vetting,” he said. “That is, the public must have full information about the judges’ political ties, origin, property status and activities as judges and in their previous capacity, and their individual and professional traits,” explained the prime minister.
The judges whose decisions have led to rulings against Armenia handed down by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) “must resign, leave or be sacked,” Pashinyan went on.
“All those judges who know deep down that they cannot be impartial and objective must resign and thereby provide an important service to the Republic of Armenia and its people,” he added.
The emergency meeting chaired by Pashinyan came as his supporters blocked the entrances to court buildings in and outside Yerevan, acting on his appeal made on Sunday. Pashinyan urged them to end the blockade in a live Facebook transmission aired right after the meeting. He said the unprecedented action, condemned by the Armenian opposition as unconstitutional, “served its purpose.”
The premier called for the court blockade one day after an Armenian court ordered his bitter foe and former President Robert Kocharian freed from custody pending the outcome of his trial on charges stemming from the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan.
Pashinyan’s political allies and supporters reacted furiously to Kocharian’s release, accusing the judge who ordered it of having ties to the ex-president and the country’s other former rulers. Kocharian’s lawyers say it is the current authorities that have pressured courts to keep their client in detention on coup charges which he rejects as politically motivated.
Pashinyan did not explicitly mention Kocharian’s release in his public statements. But he did state on Monday that Armenian courts cannot be “objective” when dealing with the 2008 unrest case.
He argued that the Strasbourg-based ECHR has ruled in favor of some of the former opposition politicians who were jailed following the deadly March 2008 clashes between security forces and opposition protesters. Eight protesters and two policemen were killed at the time.
The protesters demanded a rerun of a disputed presidential election held in February 2008. Pashinyan was one of the main speakers at the post-election demonstrations organized by the main opposition candidate, Levon Ter-Petrosian. He subsequently spent nearly two years in prison as a result of a crackdown on the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition which Kocharian ordered less than two months before serving out his second and final presidential term.
The indicted ex-president has accused Pashinyan of waging a political “vendetta.” The 43-year-old premier denies this.
Amid opposition uproar against the blockade of the court buildings, Pashinyan insisted on Monday that he is not seeking to have “puppet courts.” He said that he is on the contrary keen to build a “truly independent judicial system.”
In that regard, Pashinyan told the Armenian parliament dominated by his allies to speed up the drafting of laws that will introduce “mechanisms for transitional justice.” The authorities could go as far to amend the Armenian constitution for that purpose, he said.
Pashinyan has repeatedly called for “transitional justice” ever since he swept to power in May 2018 following mass protests dubbed a “velvet revolution.” But he has so far shed little light on what that would mean in practice.