A court in Yerevan on Friday dismissed former President Robert Kocharian’s claim that Armenia’s constitution gives him immunity from prosecution on coup charges strongly denied by him.
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 provision when they asked the district court last month to free the ex-president and throw out the charges stemming from the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan.
One of the lawyers, Hovannes Khudoyan, said during a March 26 court hearing that investigators have still not explained why they believe the clause does not apply to the high-profile criminal case. Khudoyan argued that Armenia’s Court of Appeals upheld his client’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.
Siding with the prosecutors, the district court ruled that the man who ruled Armenia from 1998-2008 cannot be protected from prosecution. It did not immediately publicize its arguments in favor of that ruling.
On Thursday, the Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s March 15 decision to extend Kocharian’s pre-trial arrested by two months. The ex-president’s lawyers denounced the decision, saying that it was dictated by the Special Investigative Service (SIS), a law-enforcement body conducting the long-running inquiry into the 2008 violence.
Kocharian as well as three retired army generals are 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. The SIS says that they illegally used the armed forces against opposition supporters who demonstrated 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.