Samvel Mnatsakanian told RFE/RL that the local judiciary cannot be considered a separate branch of government because many judges are more concerned with not upsetting senior government officials than with enforcing laws.
Mnatsakanian took the bench in 1988 and worked at a district court in Yerevan. He was relieved of his duties by President Serzh Sarkisian on July 11 on the recommendation of the Justice Council, a state body overseeing the courts.
The council is headed by Arman Mkrtumian, chairman of the Court of Cassation, the highest body of criminal and civil justice. It has not elaborated on its recommendation to the president to dismiss Mnatsakanian.
Mnatsakanian is believed to have been fired because he granted bail to a criminal suspect contrary to the prosecutors' wishes. The Armenian Chamber of Advocates says he angered Mkrtumian by not consulting him about that decision.
The chairman of the national bar association, Ruben Sahakian, and dozens of other lawyers staged an unprecedented demonstration outside the Cassation Court in early July to protest Mnatsakanian's upcoming dismissal.
Mnatsakanian likewise described the Justice Council's action against him as baseless. He said Mkrtumian personally initiated his ouster to warn other judges against making major decisions without his consent.
Armenian courts have long been notorious for their lack of independence. They rarely hand down rulings in defiance of government and law-enforcement bodies. That perceived subservience has given rise to widespread skepticism about repeated government pledges to reform the judiciary.
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