Armenia’s Constitutional Court began on Tuesday final deliberations on former President Robert Kocharian’s appeal against his arrest and prosecution on coup charges.
Early this year, Kocharian petitioned the court to declare unconstitutional two articles of the Code of Procedural Justice used against him by law-enforcement authorities.
His lawyers maintain that the Armenian constitution gives him immunity from prosecution for his actions taken during the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan. The Special Investigative Service (SIS), which indicted Kocharian shortly after last year’s “Velvet Revolution,” disputes these claims.
The court is due to announce its ruling on the appeal by Wednesday evening.
One of Kocharian’s lawyers, Hayk Alumian, expressed hope that the court will accept his and his colleagues’ arguments. In that case, he said, the ex-president will have to be freed and cleared of “overthrow of the constitutional order” alleged by the SIS.
The SIS specifically claims that Kocharian and three retired army generals illegally used Armenian army units against opposition protesters who demonstrated in Yerevan against alleged fraud in a February 2008 presidential election. The vote was controversially won by his preferred successor, Serzh Sarkisian.
The final deliberations unfolded amid demonstrations staged by Kocharian’s supporters and detractors outside the Constitutional Court building in the city center. Separated by riot police, the rival protesters chanted slogans and shouted insults at each other.
“We want freedom for Robert Kocharian,” one woman told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “There are no grounds to keep Robert Kocharian in jail.” She dismissed the charges brought against him as “lies.”
“An honest person must be freed, right? It’s as simple as that,” said another Kocharian backer.
“Kocharian is a state criminal, not a hero,” countered a man who held the ex-president responsible for the deaths of ten people on March 1-2, 2008.
“I wish Kocharian a life sentence,” said another anti-Kocharian protester.
Late last week, Vahe Grigorian, the Constitutional Court’s newest member installed by the Armenian parliament in June, demanded that the court’s chairman, Hrayr Tovmasian, and two other judges recuse themselves from the case. He said that they cannot be impartial and objective because of having been previously involved in controversial decisions relating to the 2008 unrest case.
The nine-member court’s official response to Grigorian’s demand is still not known.
Grigorian himself was excluded from the consideration of Kocharian’s appeal in July. Tovmasian argued that he has represented relatives of the eight protesters killed in March 2008 in other courts.
Later in July, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian signaled support for Grigorian and launched a scathing attack on Tovmasian. Pashinian accused the latter of cutting political deals with former President Sarkisian to “privatize” the country’s highest court. Tovmasian responded by warning the government against attempting to force him and his clients to resign.