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Armenian Ombudsman Accuses Courts Of Soviet-Era Rulings

Ombudsman Armen Harutiunian

Armenia's ombudsman, the country's top human rights defender, has harshly criticized local courts for basing rulings on procedures dating from the Soviet legal system.

Armen Harutiunian says courts are predominately siding with the authorities, particularly in their decisions to allow the detention of opposition activists to be prolonged, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Last week, the local court in Yerevan allowed authorities to extend the detention of two major opposition leaders -- former Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzumanian and Ararat Zurabian, the chairman of the Armenian Pan-National Movement -- for two months.

Almost all such detainees are held on charges of "usurpation of state power" and "incitement to mass disturbances." The opposition claims there are at least 82 political prisoners detained under such pretexts.

In his latest findings, Harutiunian accused the courts of putting people in jail without specific charges and without giving equal weight to defense arguments. Harutiunian said such decisions contradict European legal conventions and precedents.

New President Serzh Sarkisian acknowledged on July 10 a lack of public trust in Armenia's judicial system and said he will do "everything" to make local courts more independent of the government.

Harutiunian, appointed by former President Robert Kocharian, has become a harsh critic of the government, accusing Kocharian's government of mishandling a postelection crisis in early March in which at least 10 people were killed.

Armenian Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian and Justice Minister Gevorg Danielian said Harutiunian overstepped his authority and have asked parliament to strip his immunity from prosecution.

Kocharian has since said Harutiunian's appointment was the worst of his presidency.

Last week, Harutiunian asked the National Security Service to assign bodyguards for him and his family but said the request was not due to any specific threats.

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