Armenia told to refrain from pressuring judges

TBILISI (Reuters) - Parliamentarians from the Council of Europe, the continent’s chief human rights watchdog, warned Armenia on Tuesday to refrain from pressuring its judiciary.

The statement came after hundreds of protesters briefly blocked access to the ex-Soviet nation’s courts on Monday heeding a call from Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

“Political stakeholders must refrain from actions and statements that could be perceived as exerting pressure on the judiciary,” Yuliya Lovochkina and Andrej Sircelj, co-rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) for the monitoring of Armenia, said in a statement.

“The independence of the judiciary is a pre-requisite for the rule of law,” added the organization, which can only make recommendations to other bodies.

Pashinyan, who came to power in a peaceful revolution last year after protests against corruption and cronyism, had called for the demonstrations on Sunday after a court ordered ex-president Robert Kocharyan freed on bail from pre-trial detention.

Kocharyan, who was president from 1998 to 2008, has been charged with acting unlawfully by introducing a state of emergency in March 2008, following a disputed election. At least ten people were killed in clashes between police and protesters.

“The time has come to carry out a surgical intervention in the judicial system,” Pashinyan said in a televised address on Sunday, urging the vetting of all judges.

PACE said it recognized the public reaction to Kocharyan’s freeing on bail showed the low trust in the judiciary.

“Judicial reforms remain a priority and we welcome Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s stated desire for far-reaching reform of the judicial system,” the co-rapporteurs said.

Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne