A district court in Yerevan rejected on Tuesday former President Robert Kocharian’s latest demand for his release from prison which followed a Constitutional Court ruling on coup charges brought against him.
The Constitutional Court ruled on September 4 that an article of the Armenian Code of Procedural Justice used against Kocharian is unconstitutional because it does not take account of current and former senior Armenian officials’ legal immunity from prosecution.
Kocharian’s lawyers seized upon that ruling to demand that their client is set free and cleared of the charges stemming from the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan. A district court judge, Anna Danibekian, received a relevant petition from them when she resumed on September 12 Kocharian’s trial suspended almost four months ago.
Danibekian announced her decision to reject the petition at the start of the latest court hearing in the case. She did not immediately publicize the full text of the decision presumably containing her interpretation of the Constitutional Court ruling.
Kocharian accused Danibekian of ignoring the ruling when he reacted to her decision in the courtroom. His lawyers charged that the decision is the result of what they described as strong pressure exerted on the judge by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and his political allies.
Pashinian on Monday described the Constitutional Court ruling as “illegal,” citing dissenting opinions voiced by two members of Armenia’s highest tribunal. Also, the parliamentary leaders of his My Step alliance demanded that the court replace its chairman, Hrayr Tovmasian.
One of Kocharian’s lawyers, Hayk Alumian, said these statements were a “clear message” to Danibekian to the effect that her decision to end the ex-president’s prosecution would also be deemed illegal. Another defense lawyer, Aram Orbelian, claimed that “various people visited” the judge to warn her against ruling in Kocharian’s favor. Orbelian did not elaborate on the claim which sparked vehement objections from trial prosecutors.
The judge presiding over the trial read out her decision as hundreds of vocal supporters and critics of Kocharian again demonstrated outside the court building in Yerevan’s southern Shengavit district. Separated by riot police, they shouted insults at each other and chanted slogans in support and against the man who ruled Armenia from 1998-2008.
A smaller number of rival demonstrators watched the proceedings in the courtroom. Kocharian’s detractors burst into applause when Danibekian refused to free the 65-year-old ex-president.
The defense lawyers went on to petition Danibekian to release Kocharian on bail. They again argued that the ex-president never attempted to hide from justice or obstruct the criminal investigation into the March 2008 bloodshed.
“I’m not kind the kind of person who could flee from anything” Kocharian said, for his part. “If I was a fleeing type Azerbaijanis would now be drinking tea in Stepanakert,” he added, reminding the judge of his wartime leadership of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The prosecutors objected to the bail request. One of them spoke of a “very high risk” of Kocharian going into hiding and/or exerting “illegal influence” on the case in the event of his release. Another prosecutor argued that law-enforcement authorities are continuing to investigate the deaths of eight protesters and two police servicemen during the March 1-2, 2008 street clashes in Yerevan.
Kocharian declared a state of emergency and ordered troops into the Armenian capital during the clashes sparked by a disputed presidential election. The prosecution says that this and other orders issued by him to the military were illegal, a claim denied by Kocharian as politically motivated.
Also standing trial on charges of “overthrowing the constitutional order” are Kocharian’s former chief of staff Armen Gevorgian and retired army Generals Seyran Ohanian and Yuri Khachaturov. They too deny the accusations.