YEREVAN -- The Armenian parliament has installed two new members at the state body that nominates, sanctions, and dismisses the South Caucasus country’s judges, amid tensions between the government and judiciary.
Gagik Jahangirian and Davit Khachaturian were appointed to fill vacant seats at the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) in a vote on January 22 that was boycotted by the opposition, following their nomination by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s My Step bloc.
Taron Sahakian of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) said it would not take part in the vote because “the opposition has been barred from participating in judicial reforms.”
Civil activists have accused Jahangirian of covering up crimes and abetting other abuses in the Armenian armed forces throughout his tenure as chief military prosecutor from 1997-2006 -- allegations he has denied.
Khachaturian is a former chairman of the board of the Armenian branch of U.S. billionaire George Soros’s Open Society Foundation. His brother Sasun Khachatrian heads the Special Investigative Service.
In recent months, Armenian judges have opposed the arrests of dozens of leaders and members of the opposition, as well as anti-government activists who have been prosecuted in connection with street protests that followed the September-November 2020 fighting in and around the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Pashinian charged last month that Armenia’s judicial system has become part of a “pseudo-elite” that is trying to topple him after a Moscow-brokered cease-fire agreement put an end to six weeks of fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces on November 10, 2020.
SJC chairman Ruben Vartazarian rejected the criticism.
Addressing parliament before the January 22 vote, he accused Pashinian’s political team of failing to “purge” the judiciary and urged lawmakers to pass legislation to “get rid of judges who committed blatant human rights violations.”