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Former Judge Samvel Mnatsakanian (undated)
YEREVAN -- A judge sacked earlier this month has lambasted Armenia's judicial system, saying it is neither independent, objective, nor fair, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

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.

Read more in Armenian here
BAKU -- The relatives of an elderly Iranian citizen who fought against the Iranian regime some 25 years ago say Azerbaijani border guards have deported him to Iran, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

The relatives say Mahmud Ardahali, 71, was detained with a friend in Azerbaijan's western Qazakh district on July 15 and shortly thereafter deported to Iran.

Ardahali had no documents with him when he was apprehended. His friend was later released.

Ardahali's Azerbaijani wife, Gular Mursalayeva, told RFE/RL on July 27 that they had made contact with him via the Internet. On July 23, his daughter received an e-mail that said, among other things: "Don't waste time searching [in Azerbaijan] for your father, he is in Iran."

Mursalayeva said Ardahali is currently under house arrest at a friend's home in Iran and is awaiting a court decision on his case, which she said could lead to his execution.

Mursalayeva said her husband was sentenced to five years' imprisonment for political activity after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

"He led an armed political movement and fought against the Iranian regime," she said.

Ardahali left Iran in 1988, lived in Turkey and Germany, and arrived in Azerbaijan in 1991. He has two children with Mursulayeva, who is his second wife.

She added that Ardahali was duped and taken back to Iran once before, where he was taken into custody. "He managed to escape during his trial in 2002,' she said, "otherwise he might have been executed."

Mursalayeva said Ardahali had appealed to several Azerbaijani bodies to obtain official documents, but the migration office did not give him either Azerbaijani citizenship or any other document.

Azerbaijani Migration Service deputy head Zarnishan Ahmadova told RFE/RL she knew nothing about Ardahali's deportation. She advised Mursalayeva to make an appeal to the service.

Independent legal analyst Erkin Qadirli noted that the European Human Rights Convention prohibits inhumane treatment or torture of prisoners.

"If any country is aware that a political migrant can face real danger [in another country] but hands him back anyway, it is violating the third provision of the [European rights] convention," Qadirli said. "In the event that the immigrant may face danger in Iran and the Azerbaijani government has returned him intentionally, it will have violated that provision."

Read more in Azeri here

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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