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Armenian Constitutional Court Starts Examining Kocharian Claim


Armenia -- Former President Robert Kocharian greets supporters during his trial, Yerevan, February 25, 2020.

Armenia’s Constitutional Court has started the examination of applications from former President Robert Kocharian and a lower court judge regarding the compliance of a penal code article to the country’s basic law.

At the heart of the dispute is Article 300.1 of the Criminal Code that concerns “overthrowing the constitutional order” under which Kocharian is currently being tried by a lower court and faces up to 15 years in prison.

In May 2019, the Court of General Jurisdiction in Yerevan presided over by Judge David Grigorian, along with the order to release Kocharian from pretrial detention, decided to suspend the case and apply to the Constitutional Court to check whether the penal code article under which Kocharian is accused is constitutional.

Kocharian’s lawyers submitted a separate application to the Constitutional Court regarding the same matter.

Kocharian, his former chief of staff Armen Gevorgian and two retired army generals stand accused of “overthrowing the constitutional order” in the wake of a disputed presidential election held in 2008.

In particular, the matter concerns the alleged use by the Kocharian government of the army to quell street protests.

Kocharian and the three other defendants deny that the military was used in the dispersal of opposition demonstrations in which 10 people were killed.

They all reject the accusations as politically motivated.

Kocharian’s lawyers find that the penal code article under which their client is charged is too general. Besides, they find that since it was not in the criminal code in 2008, it could not be applied retrospectively against the former leader.

Kocharian was first arrested and indicted in July 2018, two months after the “Velvet Revolution” that brought current Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian to power.

(Pashinian was one of the opposition leaders who contested the outcome of the 2008 presidential election and was actively involved in street demonstrations. In 2010, he was convicted of “organizing mass disorders” and sentenced to seven years in prison, but was amnestied and freed the following year, having spent less than two years in jail.)

Grigorian’s order to release Kocharian from pretrial detention was overruled by a higher court and the judge himself was prosecuted on an unrelated charge of documentary forgery. The court, however, later acquitted Grigorian.

Meanwhile, Kocharian was rearrested in June 2019. The judge who took over Kocharian’s trial later that year, Anna Danibekian, repeatedly refused to release the ex-president from custody pending a verdict in the case. In June 2020, the Court of Appeals overturned Danibekian’s decision to deny Kocharian bail and ordered him freed. Eventually, Kocharian was freed after paying a record $4.1 million bail set by Armenia’s Court of Appeals.

Remarkably, at today’s hearing, lower court judge Danibekian announced that the court proceedings against Kocharian and others in the case that have lasted for more than a year and a half and were accompanied with various petitions from the counsel for the defense “have entered the trial stage.”

After this announcement Kocharian’s lawyers boycotted the court session and left the courtroom, which led to the postponement of the proceedings.

It was also announced that prosecutors will present their case against the defendants at next week’s hearing.

Kocharian, who ruled Armenia in 1998-2008, has criticized Pashinian and his government for mishandling the 2020 war against Azerbaijan that ended in the defeat of Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh and triggered a political crisis in Armenia.

The 66-year former leader has called for Pashinian’s resignation and the formation of an interim government. In a January interview the former leader also said that he will participate in snap parliamentary elections and win them even if they are held by Armenia’s current government.

Last week, after consultations with the parliamentary opposition, Pashinian announced that early elections in Armenia will be held in June.

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