A group of protesters burst into a hotel in Yerevan on Tuesday, preventing former President Robert Kocharian from holding a news conference there.
Kocharian was due to meet the press at a conference hall of the Erebuni Plaza hotel one day after Armenia’s Court of Appeals released him from custody and ruled that he cannot be prosecuted for a 2008 post-election crackdown on opposition protesters.
The news conference was disrupted by several dozen mostly young protesters chanting “Robert murderer!” They blamed him for the deaths of eight protesters and two police servicemen during the breakup on March 1-2, 2008 of opposition demonstrations held in the wake of a disputed presidential election.
“We wanted to both disrupt the news conference and show the people’s attitude towards yesterday’s [Court of Appeals] verdict,” said one of the protesters, Karen Tovmasian. “It’s an obviously illegal verdict.”
“If [Kocharian] has something to say, let him say that in court,” he said.
Kocharian, who ruled Armenia from 1998-2008, was seen leaving the hotel located in downtown Yerevan from a back entrance shortly after the incident. His office was quick to accuse Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian of organizing the intrusion to stop Kocharian from speaking up. The intruders mainly included individuals close to Pashinian, it said in a statement.
The statement said that Kocharian planned to make “important political statements" and "answer many questions” at the press conference.
“Today’s incident seems to bear out growing concerns … that the new authorities do not tolerate dissent and can persecute political opponents, especially those whose political clout and prospects are a cause for serious concern to them,” it charged.
Pashinian appealed to supporters in a Facebook video address aired following the disruption of Kocharian’s press conference. “All individuals who committed crimes against the state and the people will be held accountable,” he declared.
“Rest assured that in Armenia there is no force capable of taking on the people’s power and stopping the victory of the popular revolution,” said Pashinian. “Whoever tries to stand in our way will end up in the garbage dump of history.”
Kocharian was arrested on July 27 on charges of “overthrowing the constitutional order” after the February 2008 election marred by opposition allegations of fraud. The charges stem from what Armenia’s Special Investigative Service (SIS) calls illegal use of the armed forces against supporters of the main opposition presidential candidate, Levon Ter-Petrosian. Kocharian rejects them as politically motivated.
The 63-year-old ex-president was set free on Monday immediately after the Court of Appeals ruled that the Armenian constitution gives him immunity from prosecution. The SIS condemned the decision as “illegal” and urged state prosecutors to ask the higher Court of Cassation to overturn it.
Pashinian played a key role in the 2008 protests. He subsequently spent nearly two years in prison for organizing “mass disturbances.” Pashinian appointed a new head of the SIS and ordered a fresh probe of the 2008 bloodshed shortly after coming to power in May this year.