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Former Armenian PMs Urge Kocharian’s Release


Armenia -- Former Prime Ministers Vazgen Manukian (L), Khosrov Harutiunian (C) and Karen Karapetian attend the trial of former President Robert Kocharian, Yerevan, May 8, 2020.

Three former Armenian prime ministers petitioned a Yerevan court to release former President Robert Kocharian from custody when his trial resumed after a two-month pause on Friday.

The trial of Kocharian and three other former officials prosecuted on coup charges denied by them was suspended in March after the presiding judge, Anna Danibekian, unexpectedly took sick leave. Danibekian officially returned to work on April 17 but did not rush to restart court hearings.

Former Prime Ministers Vazgen Manukian, Khosrov Harutiunian and Karen Karapetian attended the latest hearing to guarantee in writing that Kocharian will demonstrate “proper behavior” and not go into hiding or obstruct justice if set free. A former Karabakh prime minister, Anushavan Danielian, also signed such a statement and handed it to Danibekian.

Manukian had served as Armenia’s first post-Communist prime minister from 1990-1991. He was succeeded by Harutiunian in 1992. For his part, Karapetian held the post from 2016-2018, during former President Serzh Sarkisian’s rule. None of the three men agreed to talk to reporters after leaving the courtroom.

Meanwhile, Kocharian’s lawyers submitted two separate petitions demanding his release on health grounds or on bail. They said late last month that he risks being infected with coronavirus in a Yerevan prison.

The ex-president, who ruled Armenia from 2008-2018, was hospitalized a few days later. Nevertheless, he attended the latest court session.

Armenia -- Former President Robert Kocharian is brought to a courtroom in Yerevan, May 8, 2020.
Armenia -- Former President Robert Kocharian is brought to a courtroom in Yerevan, May 8, 2020.

Kocharian likewise claimed to be at risk of contracting the virus when he spoke in the courtroom. “Now I’m alone in my prison cell … but there is obviously contact with [prison] personnel,” he told the judge. “It’s impossible to avoid it. Given the prison conditions it’s impossible to maintain a safe physical distance.”

The trial prosecutors continued to oppose Kocharian’s release. One of them, Petros Petrosian, said that the ex-president could flee prosecution or obstruct justice.

Danibekian said she will rule on the petitions on May 13. The judge had repeatedly refused to free Kocharian pending the outcome of the trial since taking over the high-profile case last August.

The three other defendants -- Kocharian’s former chief of staff Armen Gevorgian and retired army Generals Seyran Ohanian and Yuri Khachaturov -- have not been held in detention. The charges leveled against them and Kocharian mostly stem from the 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan.

The 65-year-old ex-president also stands accused of bribe-taking. He rejects all accusations as politically motivated.

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