Armenia’s Constitutional Court did not make a quorum on Tuesday to start hearings on the legality of coup charges brought against former President Robert Kocharian.
The court has been in limbo since the Armenian parliament passed late last month constitutional changes calling for the immediate dismissal of three of its nine judges. They also stipulate that Hrayr Tovmasian must quit as court chairman but remain a judge.
Tovmasian and the three ousted justices have rejected the changes as unconstitutional, filing relevant appeals in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
In what appeared to be a related development, Tovmasian and another remaining judge, Arevik Petrosian, went on vacation last week.
Consequently, the majority of the Constitutional Court members did not show up for a court session which was due to discuss the case against Kocharian along with several other issues.
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 the 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 Strasbourg-based court’s Grand Chamber released a lengthy and complex opinion in May, while the Venice Commission offered its assessment in June.
One of the six remaining Constitutional Court judges, Vahe Grigorian, was earlier barred by his colleagues from dealing with the Kocharian case. They argued that Grigorian cannot make impartial decisions on the matter because he had represented relatives of nine of the ten people killed in March 2008.
One of their current lawyers, Tigran Yegorian, demanded on Tuesday that Tovmasian and three other justices be also excluded from the high-profile case because of what he described as a conflict of interest and political bias. A lawyer representing Kocharian dismissed the demand, saying that Yegorian is not in a position to voice such demands.