Armenia’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday declared unconstitutional a legal provision that has been used by law-enforcement authorities for arresting and prosecuting former President Robert Kocharian.
Kocharian’s lawyers had challenged the legality of two articles of the Armenian Code of Procedural Justice invoked by investigators accusing him of taking bribes and overthrowing the constitutional order shortly before the end of his decade-long rule in 2008.
The court ruled that one of those articles is unconstitutional because it does not take account of current and former senior Armenian officials’ immunity from prosecution guaranteed by the Armenian constitution. But it dismissed the defense lawyers’ objections to the other clause that spells out legal grounds for arresting criminal suspects.
The ruling was signed by six of the nine Constitutional Court judges, including the court chairman, Hrayr Tovmasian. Two other judges wrote dissenting opinions that were not immediately made public.
The ninth judge, Vahe Grigorian, was excluded from the consideration of Kocharian’s appeal because of having previously represented relatives of the eight protesters killed in the March 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan. Kocharian and three retired Armenian generals stand accused of illegally using the armed forces against opposition supporters who demanded the rerun of a disputed presidential election. They all deny the accusation.
Speaking to reporters, one of Kocharian’s lawyers, Aram Vartevanian, seemed satisfied with the Constitutional Court verdict read out by Tovmasian. Vartevanian said the ruling means that Kocharian’s arrest constituted a “violation of his constitutional rights” and that the ex-president should therefore be released from jail.
Asked whether he believes his client must also be cleared of the coup charges, Vartevanian said: “We will be able to answer this question only after familiarizing ourselves with the full text of the court’s decision.”
Armenian prosecutors and the Special Investigative Service (SIS), which indicted Kocharian in July 2018, did not immediately react to the court ruling.
The ruling’s significance was downplayed by Alen Simonian, a deputy parliament speaker and close associate of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian. He insisted that the high court’s decision to uphold the other Code of Procedural Justice article means that the ex-president’s release is “out of question.”
“Nevertheless, we have to wait for the publication of the full text,” Simonian added in comments to RFE/RL’s Armenians service. “At this point any further comment on the decision published today would be wrong in the legal and all other senses.”
Simonian also took a swipe at Tovmasian, saying he and most ordinary Armenians “have no confidence” in the court chairman installed by the country’s former leadership. He claimed that Tovmasian had personally benefited from the March 2008 bloodshed and cannot make impartial decisions on the Kocharian case.
In July, Pashinian accused Tovmasian of cutting political deals with Kocharian’s successor, Serzh Sarkisian, to “privatize” Armenia’s highest court. Tovmasian responded by warning the government against attempting to force him and his colleagues to resign.
Kocharian was set free five days after the start of his trial in May. A district court judge presiding over it, Davit Grigorian, further angered government supporters with his decision to suspend the trial and ask the Constitutional Court to rule on the legality of the charges brought against the ex-president.
Kocharian was arrested again after Armenia’s Court of Appeals overturned Grigorian’s decisions in late June. Law-enforcement authorities charged Grigorian with forgery in the following weeks. The judge was suspended as a result.
The case was then assigned to another judge, Anna Danibekian. She is due to resume Kocharian’s trial on September 12.