Armenia’s Constitutional Court is scheduled to start on July 7 hearings on the legality of coup charges brought against former President Robert Kocharian.
Kocharian is prosecuted under Article 300.1of Armenia’s Criminal Code dealing with “overthrow of the constitutional order.” The accusation rejected by him as politically motivated stems from the 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan that left ten people dead.
The current code was enacted in 2009. Kocharian’s lawyers maintain that the article in question cannot be used retroactively against him. They argue that the previous code, which was in force during the dramatic events of March 2008, had no clauses relating to “overthrow of the constitutional order” and contained instead references to “usurpation of state power.”
Prosecutors say that there are no significant differences between the two definitions of a crime allegedly committed by the man who ruled Armenia from 1998-2008.
Kocharian’s legal team last year asked Armenia’s Constitutional Court to declare the coup charge illegal. A Yerevan judge who initially presided over the ex-president’s trial likewise asked the court to pass judgment on the legality of the accusation.
The Constitutional Court in turn decided in July 2019 to request an “advisory opinion” on the matter from the ECHR as well as the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe. The ECHR’s Grand Chamber released a lengthy and complex opinion on May 29, while the Venice Commission offered its assessment late last week.
The Constitutional Court decided on Monday to schedule the first hearing on the case for July 7 just as the Armenian parliament approved constitutional amendments calling for the immediate dismissal of three of its nine judges.
One of Kocharian’s lawyers, Hayk Alumian, claimed on Tuesday that the parliament controlled by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s My Step bloc is keen to quickly change the court’s composition in order to ensure that the coup case against the ex-president is not dropped. Alumian said the authorities have been trying to imprison him “at any cost.”
Kocharian’s supporters have similarly alleged that Pashinian turned on the Constitutional Court last summer because it agreed to rule on the appeals lodged by the defense lawyers and the former trial judge.
Kocharian, his former chief of staff and two retired army generals went on trial in May 2019. The ex-president also stands accused of bribery. He strongly denies all accusations leveled against him, saying that they are part of a “political vendetta” waged by Pashinian. Law-enforcement authorities maintain that the case is not politically motivated.
One of the trial prosecutors, Gevorg Baghdasarian, insisted on Tuesday that the Constitutional Court has no legal “grounds” to declare the coup charge unconstitutional. He also said the ECHR and the Venice Commission did not conclude that the case should be dropped.
For his part, Tigran Yegorian, a lawyer representing relatives of nine people killed in March 2008 unrest, said he looks forward to the replacement of the three Constitutional Court judges. He said it should make the court more “impartial.”