Three days after deciding not to recognize Robert Kocharian’s arrest and prosecution as unconstitutional, a court in Yerevan also refused on Friday to release the former Armenian president from prison on bail.
Anna Danibekian, the judge presiding over the trial of Kocharian and three other former senior officials, thus dismissed defense lawyers’ assertions that he never attempted to hide from justice or obstruct the criminal investigation into the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan.
The lawyers requested bail for their client on Tuesday immediately after Danibekian rejected their interpretation of a recent ruling handed down by Armenia’s Constitutional Court. The trial 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 witnesses in the event of his release.
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. According to the ex-president’s attorneys, this means that he must be set free and cleared of coup charges.
The lawyers said on Tuesday that Danibekian bowed to what they called strong pressure exerted on her by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and his political allies. One of them, Hayk Alumian, condemned the judge in even stronger terms after she refused to grant Kocharian bail.
“The court has thus become a tool for Mr. Kocharian’s political persecution,” Alumian charged in the courtroom. The court is now acting like a government tool.”
Alumian went on to demand that Danibekian recuse herself from the case. “You are unable to administer justice in this case because you are under the influence of the force persecuting Mr. Kocharian for political purposes,” the lawyer told her.
The 41-year-old judge said she will respond to the demand at the next court hearing which she scheduled for October 7.
The high-profile case was assigned to Danibekian less than a month ago. Kocharian’s trial was previously presided over by another judge, Davit Grigorian. The latter ordered Kocharian freed from custody on May 18. He also suspended the trial, questioning the legality of the coup charges leveled against the man who ruled Armenia from 1998-2008.
Grigorian was suspended by judicial authorities in July after a law-enforcement agency charged him with forgery. The judge denies the accusation.
The Constitutional Court ruling on the case also angered the authorities. Pashinian denounced it as “illegal,” while the pro-government majority in the Armenian parliament decided to appeal to the high court to replace its chairman, Hrayr Tovmasian. Majority leaders accused Tovmasian of serious procedural violations and conflict of interest.
Kocharian, his former chief of staff Armen Gevorgian and retired army Generals Seyran Ohanian and Yuri Khachaturov stand accused of overthrowing the constitutional order in the wake of a disputed presidential election held in February 2008. The prosecution says that they illegally used the Armenian military against opposition protesters that demanded the rerun of the ballot.
All four defendants deny the accusations. Kocharian, who was also charged with bribery early this year, has repeatedly accused Pashinian of waging a “political vendetta” against him. The authorities deny political any motives behind the case.
Kocharian declared a state of emergency and ordered army units into Yerevan late on March 1, 2008 amid violent clashes between protesters and security forces which left ten people dead. He handed over power to Serzh Sarkisian, his preferred successor and official election winner, in April 2008.