Armenia’s Constitutional Court on Thursday decided to ask the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and the Council Europe’s Venice Commission to give an “advisory opinion” on the legality of coup charges brought against former President Robert Kocharian.
Kocharian was charged last year under Article 300.1of the Armenian Criminal Code dealing with violent seizure of power. The accusation stems from the 2008 post-election street clashes in Yerevan which left ten people dead.
In separate appeals, Kocharian and a district court judge in Yerevan asked the Constitutional Court earlier this year to determine whether the Criminal Code clause conforms to the Armenian constitution. The court recently agreed to hold hearings and rule on the appeals.
But it is now seeking advice from the ECHR and the Venice Commission. In a short statement, the court said it will suspend the consideration of the appeals pending formal responses from the two Strasbourg-based bodies. The statement gave no further explanation of the decision.
The decision was announced one day after Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian launched a scathing attack on the Constitutional Court and its chairman, Hrayr Tovmasian, in particular. In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Pashinian accused Tovmasian of cutting political deals with former President Serzh Sarkisian to “privatize” the country’s highest court.
“The Constitutional Court must get out of this status of a privatized booth,” he said, implicitly demanding changes in the court’s composition. He said he could initiate constitutional amendments for that purpose.
Pashinian also signaled support for Vahe Grigorian, the court’s newest judge who has challenged the legitimacy of Tovmasian and six other members of the tribunal appointed before the Pashinian-led “Velvet Revolution” of April-May 2018.
Tovmasian, who served as a senior lawmaker representing Sarkisian’s Republican Party until becoming the court chairman in March 2018, refused to respond to Pashinian on Thursday. “I don’t comment on political statements, I comment on judicial acts,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenians service.
Asked whether he is ruling out his resignation, Tovmasian said: “Can you rule out the possibility of an earthquake in Armenia tomorrow? Can you rule out that the world will collapse tomorrow?”
The Venice Commission discussed the dispute over the Armenian Constitutional Court at a session held in Strasbourg last month. An internal report on the session disclosed by Armenian opposition circles on Monday suggests that at least some members of the Council of Europe body defended the court’s legitimacy. The report describes as “disturbing” the fact that Grigorian’s claims were hailed by some pro-government members of the Armenian parliament.
Grigorian said in the parliament on June 20 that only he and another judge of the 9-member court, Arman Dilanian, can make valid decisions. He argued that under constitutional amendments which took effect last year the court now consists of “judges,” rather than “members,” as was the case until April 2018. He said that the seven other members of the court therefore cannot be considered “judges.”
The eight other members of the Constitutional Courts, including Dilanian, dismissed Grigorian’s claims in a joint statement.