Former President Robert Kocharian continued to challenge his arrest in court on Tuesday, insisting through his lawyers that Armenia’s constitution gives him immunity from prosecution on charges stemming from the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan.
An article of the constitution stipulates: “During the term of his or her powers and thereafter, the President of the Republic may not be prosecuted and subjected to liability for actions deriving from his or her status.”
Kocharian’s lawyers cited this clause as a district court in Yerevan began considering their demand to free their client and throw out the coup charges that were brought against him in July. One of the lawyers, Hovannes Khudoyan, said investigators have still not explained why they believe the clause does not apply to do the high-profile criminal case.
Khudoyan argued that Armenia’s Court of Appeals upheld the ex-president’s immunity from prosecution when it ordered his release from pre-trial custody in August.
Acting on prosecutors’ appeal, the higher Court of Cassation overturned that ruling in November, however, ordering the Court of Appeals to examine the case anew. The latter allowed law-enforcement authorities to press charges against Kocharian and again arrest him on December 7.
One of the prosecutors, Vahe Tolmazian, cited the Court of Cassation’s decision when he objected to Kocharian’s demands. Tolmazian also presented a large number of written documents in support of his objections, leading the court of first instance to adjourn the hearings.
Kocharian as well as three retired army generals stand accused of overthrowing the constitutional order in the wake of a disputed presidential election held in February 2008, less than two months before he completed his second and final presidential term. Armenia’s Special Investigative Service says that they illegally used the armed forces against opposition supporters who demonstrated in Yerevan against alleged electoral fraud.
Eight protesters and two police servicemen were killed in street clashes that broke out late on March 1, 2008. Kocharian declared a state of emergency in the Armenian capital on that night.
All four men deny the charges. Kocharian, who was also charged with bribery last month, has accused the current authorities and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian in particular of waging a political “vendetta” against him. Pashinian, who was one of the main opposition speakers during the February-March 2008 protests, has dismissed the ex-president’s claims.