Former President Robert Kocharian decried “the most disgraceful criminal case” in Armenia’s history on Thursday as a district court in Yerevan resumed his and three other former officials’ trial suspended four months ago.
Kocharian, his former chief of staff Armen Gevorgian and retired army Generals Seyran Ohanian and Yuri Khachaturov are facing charges mostly stemming from the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan. They all deny the accusations.
The judge who began the trial on May 13, Davit Grigorian, was suspended in July after being charged with forgery. The high-profile case was then assigned to another judge, Anna Danibekian.
Kocharian’s lawyers and supporters denounced Grigorian’s prosecution as government retribution for his May 18 decision to free the ex-president from jail. The embattled judge also put the trial on hold, questioning the legality of the coup charges leveled against the man who ruled Armenia from 1998-2008.
Grigorian’s decisions angered political allies of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian. They as well as prosecutors deny, however, any connection between those decisions and the criminal case against the judge.
The trial resumed with Kocharian’s lawyers petitioning Danibekian to free their client and end his prosecution. They pointed to the Constitutional Court’s September 4 decision to partly accept an appeal filed by them.
The defense lawyers had challenged the legality of two articles of the Armenian Code of Procedural Justice invoked by investigators. The Constitutional 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.
The trial prosecutors insisted on Thursday that the high court did not declare the criminal case against Kocharian null and void. They stood by the official line that legal immunity does not apply to his alleged crimes.
Judge Danibekian said she will announce her decision on the Kocharian lawyers’ demands on September 17.
Meanwhile, Kocharian, who was arrested again in late June, again rejected the charges as politically motivated and accused the prosecutors ofcommitting numerous violations of the due process. “For them, the law is like plasticine, they interpret it the way they want to,” he said in the courtroom.
“They will write about this case in textbooks and this case will have its negative and positive heroes. I have no doubts about who the negative heroes will be,” declared the 65-year-old who had been accused of rigging elections and stifling dissent throughout his decade-long rule.
“You are the one who is writing a new page of this story. What that page will say certainly depends on you,” Kocharian added, appealing to the presiding judge.
Kocharian and the three other defendants specifically stand accused of illegally using the Armenian military against opposition protesters who demanded the rerun of a disputed presidential election held in February 2008, two months before he served out his final presidential term. Official election results, rejected as fraudulent by the main opposition candidate, Levon Ter-Petrosian, gave victory to Kocharian’s preferred successor, Serzh Sarkisian.
Kocharian declared a state of emergency and ordered army units into central Yerevan late on March 1, 2008 amid violent street clashes which left eight opposition protesters and two police servicemen dead.