Government Moves to Kickstart Deadlocked Trial

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Armenian parliament debated on Tuesday a government bill that, if passed, will allow a Yerevan court to continue the trial on coup charges of seven prominent opposition figures in their absence from the courtroom.

The trial has been in deadlock ever since its start in mid-December because of the defendants’ refusal to stand up and thereby show respect to the judge in the case, Mnatsakan Martirosian, when he enters the room. Martirosian has construed the gesture of defiance as a contempt of the court, repeatedly ordering the defendants out of the room and adjourning court hearings.

An amendment to Armenia’s Code of Procedural Justice put forward by the government stipulates that trials in the country can continue in the absence of defendants if the latter display a “disrespectful attitude toward the court.”

“This practice is accepted in many countries,” Justice Minister Gevorg Danielian said, submitting the bill to the National Assembly.

Danielian denied any connection between the proposed change and the so-called “case of the seven.” He said the government drafted it months before the start of the high-profile trial.

The National Assembly is expected to approve the measure on Wednesday. Only members of its small opposition minority spoke out against it during the debate.

Victor Dallakian, an independent deputy, said citizens must not be expected to respect court that sorely lacks independence. “Are we talking about those courts that execute political orders?” he said. “Are we talking about those courts that are corrupt?”

Lawyers of the seven oppositionists also condemned the development. “The court can’t force a person to respect it,” one of them, Hovik Arsenian, told RFE/RL.

But Ruben Sahakian, chairman of Armenia’s Chamber of Advocates, defended the amendment. “Otherwise, any defendant’s behavior would make it impossible for a court to start hearings,” he said.

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