Armenia’s Penitentiary Service has appealed against a court’s decision to allow the jailed former President Robert Kocharian to remain in hospital until the end of the coronavirus pandemic.
Kocharian was taken to Yerevan’s Izmirlian Medical Center and underwent surgery there in late April for the second time in seven months. On May 13, a district court in the Armenian capital again refused to release him from custody pending the outcome of his ongoing trial.
Two weeks later, Kocharian’s lawyers succeeded in convincing another court to rule that the ex-president should not be sent back to prison as long as he remains at risk of contracting the coronavirus.
It emerged on Tuesday that the Penitentiary Service, which is part of the Armenian Ministry of Justice, challenged that decision made by the Administrative Court. The agency running Armenian prisons did not explain the move condemned by Kocharian’s lawyers.
“The Administrative Court is guided by a very clear logic,” one of the lawyers, Aram Vartevanian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “After all, penitentiary institutions do not have the capacity to preclude the spread of the coronavirus among arrested suspects or convicts.”
Vartevanian argued that at least one inmate at the Kosh prison 40 kilometers west of Yerevan tested positive for the virus late last week.
It was the first reported case of a COVID-19 infection among prisoners. The Penitentiary Service had previously reported coronavirus cases only among prison guards.
Kocharian was held in Yerevan’s Kentron jail prior to his hospitalization. His lawyers have insisted in recent month that the pandemic is another reason why he should be set free. Law-enforcement authorities have dismissed those demands, saying that his chances of catching the disease at Kentron are minimal.
Kocharian, 65, and three other former senior officials 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 bribery. He rejects all accusations leveled against him as politically motivated.