The ruling published by Constitutional Court Chairman Arman Dilanian says that Article 300.1 of the Criminal Code that concerns “overthrowing the constitutional order” runs counter to articles 78 and 79 of Armenia’s constitution that deal with the principles of proportionality and certainty in relation to restrictions of basic rights and freedoms.
Judge Dilanian said that the decision of the Constitutional Court is final and comes into effect upon its publication.
The constitutionality of the penal code article was contested by Kocharian, who faces up to 15 years in prison under the charge, as well as David Grigorian, a lower court judge who ordered the former president’s release from pretrial detention in May 2019, at the same time suspending the case and applying to the Constitutional Court regarding the matter.
Kocharian’s lawyer Aram Vardevanian told media after the publication of the ruling that since it comes into effect immediately, it means that there is no longer Article 300.1 in the Criminal Code of Armenia.
“[Judge] Anna Danibekian will terminate the criminal prosecution under Article 300.1. By virtue of the decision of the Constitutional Court, all the acts that referred to Article 300.1 are no longer in force and are subject to review starting from 2009,” Vardevanian said.
The prosecution did not comment on the Constitutional Court’s ruling immediately.
To the question of journalists whether Judge Danibekian, who presides over the trial of Kocharian and others, can resist it, Vardevanian said: “There is no case for resisting here. There is no Article 300.1 in the Criminal Code anymore.”
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 also find that since the article was not in the criminal code in 2008, it could not be applied retrospectively against their client.
Kocharian was first arrested and indicted in July 2018, two months after the “Velvet Revolution” that brought current Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian to power.
Since then Kocharian was twice freed and twice rearrested before the Court of Appeals in June 2020 overturned a lower court judge’s decision to deny him bail and ordered him freed.
Eventually, Kocharian was freed after paying a record $4.1 million bail set by Armenia’s Court of Appeals.
In addition to charges related to the 2008 post-election crackdown Kocharian is also accused of receiving a $3 million bribe from an Armenian entrepreneur when he served as president in 1998-2008.