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Armenian Lawyers Strike Against Searches in Courts

Since the commencement of court proceedings against the members of Sasna Tsrer armed group and opposition leader Zhirayr Sefilyan, bailiffs have begun searching lawyers, journalists, activists and other “suspicious” persons who wish to enter the courtrooms. When the practice also spread to court hearings in other cases, lawyers began to protest and subsequently announced a strike. The searches, which have been carried out for several months now, were explained on September 11 by the Council of Courts Chairmen with the announcement of a “list of prohibited items.”

The strike of 184 Armenian lawyers began today with a gathering-discussion at the Congress hotel in Yerevan, which was also attended by Ara Zohrabyan, chairman of Armenia’s Chamber of Advocates. Zohrabyan accused the striking lawyers of having left their clients without legal protection and advised them to take the discussion of the matter to the Advocates’ Chamber, which, according to the Chairman, the lawyers “should treat as your home.” The striking lawyers, meanwhile, have also been boycotting the elections of the Chamber’s Chairman, in which Zohrabyan is the only candidate for the position.

Lawyer Mushegh Shushanyan noted that had the Chamber been properly performing its main function, that is protecting the rights of lawyers when dealing with state agencies, the issue would have long been resolved.

Lawyer Nikolay Baghdasaryan, in turn, announced that the decision of the Council of Courts Chairmen was illegal; “ The Council released a list of items and stated that it had to carry out actions to detect them. That is a criminal procedure. A person should be searched by a subjects envisaged by the criminal proceeding – a customs, a tax or a police officer. Bailiffs are not among these subjects. Arman Mkrtumyan can not expand the list of these subjects. This is done by passing laws in the National Assembly and with the signature of the president.”

Lawyer Yervand Varosyan, for his part, argued that there is no need at all to search lawyers before they are allowed to enter courtrooms; “Is there a precedent when a lawyer carried a prohibited item into the premises or tried to assist an offense or a planned crime? No, there have never been such incidents.”