Lawyers for former President Robert Kocharian have renewed their demands for his release from custody, saying that he risks being infected with coronavirus.
“The penitentiary institution is dangerous because guards working there are not isolated and every day go home and come back,” one of the lawyers, Hovannes Khudoyan, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “The circle of their contacts is not known and virus can easily get into [prison] through them.”
Khudoyan said that the 65-year-old Kocharian is in a COVID-19 risk group because of his age and health problems.
Kocharian’s legal team made the same claims when the ex-president standing trial on coup and corruption charges was sent back to prison from a Yerevan hospital on April 3.
Kocharian was taken to the Erebuni Medical Center in Yerevan on March 9 after complaining of blood pressure fluctuations. He had undergone surgery in another hospital last year.
Armenian law-enforcement authorities have reported no coronavirus cases among prison inmates or detainees so far. Earlier this month they released two dozen criminal suspects from pre-trial detention, citing the need to protect them against the potentially lethal virus.
Khudoyan said that he and the other defense lawyers demanded their client’s release on health grounds in a petition submitted to a district court in Yerevan earlier this week. He said they asked the court chairman to assign the petition’s consideration to a judge other than Anna Danibekian, who is presiding over the high-profile trial of Kocharian and three other former officials.
Danibekian has repeatedly refused to free Kocharian pending a verdict in the case. She was due to consider a written appeal for his release, signed by three former Armenian prime ministers, during a court hearing scheduled for March 17. But she unexpectedly took sick leave and postponed the hearing.
Although the judge officially returned to work last week, she decided that the trial will resume on May 8. This sparked fresh allegations by Kocharian lawyers that the authorities are deliberately dragging out the proceedings to keep the ex-president behind bars as long as possible.
The supreme leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Garegin II, has also called for Kocharian’s release. In an April 14 statement, he said that Kocharian and other detainees “not posing a threat to the society” should be set free for now because they risk contracting coronavirus in prison.
Garegin’s appeal provoked angry reactions from Armenia’s political leadership and its supporters.
Kocharian, his former chief of staff and two retired army generals stand trial on charges mostly stemming from the 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan. The ex-president, who ruled Armenia from 1998-2008, also stands accused of bribe-taking. He rejects all accusations as politically motivated.