By Emil Danielyan
A high court’s decision to uphold the two-year suspended jail sentence given to a bodyguard of President Robert Kocharian has effectively marked the end of a six-month legal process which has raised fresh questions about the independence of Armenia’s judiciary.
The Review Court on Wednesday threw out an appeal brought by the family of a man allegedly beaten to death by presidential bodyguards in a popular Yerevan café last September. The brother and other relatives of Poghos Poghosian, an ethnic Armenian activist from Georgia, believe that the punishment set by a Yerevan court of first instance sealed an official cover-up of the crime.
The sentenced guard, Aghamal Harutiunian, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. The court endorsed state prosecutors’ claim that Poghosian died accidentally in a one-on-one scuffle with Harutiunian shortly after Kocharian left the café with his entourage. But according to some witness accounts, the victim was assaulted by several men who looked like security agents.
The Review Court argued that it can not consider the case because under the Armenian Code of Procedural Justice the relatives of a crime victim can not appeal against an entire court verdict. Only the prosecution is allowed to do so.
Ruben Sahakian, the attorney representing the Poghosian family, described the provision as “absurd” on Thursday. But acknowledged that the high court ruling was legal.
The dead man’s brother, Andranik Poghosian, may still file an appeal to the Court of Appeals, the highest body of criminal justice in Armenia. But lawyers say its rejection by the Court is a forgone conclusion. “I don’t see any possibility of pursuing the case further,” Sahakian told RFE/RL.
The café murder has been a huge political embarrassment for Kocharian. Local and international human rights groups have strongly condemned the Armenian authorities' handling of the case. The New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a statement in December accusing Kocharian of reneging on his pledge to bring to justice all perpetrators of the crime.
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), an influential party of which Poghosian was a member, has also criticized the law-enforcement authorities, but made it clear that Kocharian should not be blamed for what many believe is a bungled criminal inquiry.