A Yerevan court trying Robert Kocharian on Tuesday failed to gather for a hearing during which several former prime ministers of Armenia would vouch for the release of the former president charged with overthrowing the country’s constitutional order.
The court said Judge Anna Danibekian, who presides over the trial, was sick and could not attend. It did not provide details.
Kocharian, who ruled Armenia from 1998 to 2008, is currently on trial on charges stemming from his alleged role in a 2008 post-election crackdown on the opposition, as well as for taking bribes.
Eight civilians and two security personnel were killed on March 1-2, 2008 as security forces broke up opposition demonstrations against alleged fraud in the February 2008 presidential election. Kocharian is accused of violating the constitution by ordering the army to quell the protests. Under Armenia’s constitution, the military must not be involved in settling internal conflicts. The ex-president denies issuing any orders for the army and rejects the charges as politically motivated. His lawyers also claim he has immunity from prosecution as the former head of state, a premise dismissed by the court.
Vazgen Manukian, Khosrov Harutiunian and Karen Karapetian, who served as prime ministers of Armenia at different times over the past three decades, as well as Nagorno-Karabakh’s former prime minister Anushavan Danielian were expected to attend today’s hearing and provide personal guarantees for Kocharian to be released from custody.
In announcing this on Monday, the group set up in defense of Kocharian’s release called on other supporters of the ex-president not to gather outside the court building “due to the current situation in the country.”
Due to a rising number of novel coronavirus cases, the Armenian government declared a state of emergency on Monday, banning all public events involving more than two dozen people.
Lawyers of Kocharian, who was hospitalized on March 9, said yesterday that doctors could allow the ex-president to appear in court briefly. The ex-president who is still undergoing treatment in hospital eventually did not show up in the court-room.
Lawyers of Kocharian and three other senior officials who are co-defendants in the trial refused to leave the court-room for about an hour. The former president’s defense attorney Hayk Alumian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) that they had not been properly informed about the postponement of the hearing. “We were told through one of the court officials that no one was going to come down here and inform us about what was happening. Perhaps they considered it to be beneath their dignity to come and explain it to us in the court-room,” he said.
Earlier, Alumian and another lawyer improvised a court hearing, with one of them taking the seat of the judge and the other acting like a prosecutor. “This way we sought to make them hear that we were still in the court-room,” Alumian explained.
The lawyer cast doubts over the official explanation for the postponement of the hearing. “We suspect that this was done intentionally so that some of the four guarantors [who have come especially for the occasion] leave and be outside Armenia [at the next hearing],” Alumian claimed.
No date for the next hearing has been scheduled yet. Alumian said it was his understanding that the current state of emergency over the coronavirus outbreak should not interfere with the normal course of the court proceedings.