August 9, 2017
Fair Trials has joined the call to the Armenian authorities to stop harassment of criminal defence lawyers, through a letter coordinated by the Civic Solidarity Platform (CSP), a coalition of NGOs based in countries spanning from North America to Europe and Central Asia.
The letter is a response to the reported harassment of lawyers defending people involved in the July 2016 protests, which called for the release of opposition leader Jirair Sefilian and the resignation of President Serzh Sargsyan. The lawyers in question have been trying to defend some members of the armed opposition group Sasna Tsrer, who are facing trial having seized a police station in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital city, to voice its calls for reform and ask people to join their protest. Thousands of people took the protest to the streets, until police forces put down the demonstrations through the use of force. According to official sources, over 60 people have been prosecuted and will face trial in relation to these events.
Lawyers Arayik Papikyan, Mushegh Shushanyan and Nina Karapetyants from the Helsinki Association of Armenia are among those who have faced state-enforced harassment. Specifically, they have been prevented from visiting their clients in detention and holding private discussions with them. Their notes on the cases have been confiscated and destroyed by officials in the detention facilities, thus hindering them from building an appropriate defence for their clients.
Harassment did not stop at prison but continued in court. Some of the lawyers have been subjected to lengthy and intrusive security searches when arriving to court, a procedure that was not applied to the prosecutors and other actors in the trial. Moreover, some judges and the Public Prosecutor’s Office have requested the Chamber of Advocates to take disciplinary sanctions against Arayik Papikyan, Mushegh Shushanyan and Nina Karapetyants because of their social media activities and media interviews regarding irregularities during the court proceedings, as well as broader developments in Armenia. The Chamber of Advocates has initiated disciplinary proceedings in these cases and the proceedings are currently under way. If found guilty, these lawyers can be fined and even deprived of their license to practice law.