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Lawyers Demand End To Kocharian’s ‘Unconstitutional’ Trial


Armenia -- Former President Robert Kocharian (C) and his lawyers attend a court hearing in Yerevan, March 30, 2021.

Lawyers for Robert Kocharian demanded on Tuesday that a Yerevan judge throw out coup charges against Armenia’s former president, arguing that the Constitutional Court has declared them unconstitutional.

Kocharian as well as two retired generals are prosecuted under Article 300.1 of the Armenian Criminal Code dealing with “overthrow of the constitutional order.” The accusation rejected by them as politically motivated stems from the 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan that left ten people dead.

The current Criminal Code was enacted in 2009. 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.”

Kocharian’s legal team appealed to the Constitutional Court in 2019, saying that Article 300.1 cannot be used retroactively against the ex-president. A judge who initially presided over Kocharian’s high-profile trial also asked the high court to pass judgment on the legality of the accusation.

In a March 26 ruling, the court backed the defense lawyers’ arguments. It said that the prosecutors’ recourse to Article 300.1 runs counter to the Armenian constitution.

The Office of the Prosecutor-General has still not reacted to the ruling.

Anna Danibekian, the current presiding judge, said on Tuesday that she has received a letter from a prosecutor asking her to adjourn the trial until April 6. Danibekian said he informed her that the prosecution needs time to submit an “extensive petition” in connection with the Constitutional Court’s decision.

Armenia - Judge Anna Danibekian presides over former President Robert Kocharian's trial, Yerevan, March 30, 2021.
Armenia - Judge Anna Danibekian presides over former President Robert Kocharian's trial, Yerevan, March 30, 2021.

The judge went on to announce that the trial will resume on April 2. Kocharian’s lawyers criticized the decision, saying that she should have put an end to the coup trial instead.

“In effect, our client is still prosecuted under a Criminal Code article that does not exist anymore … You must have stopped his prosecution by now,” one of them, Hayk Alumian, told Danibekian.

“Do you realize just how seriously you are breaking the law?” Alumian charged.

Kocharian, who ruled Armenia from 1998-2008, also stands accused of bribe-taking. He strongly denies that accusation as well.

The 66-year-old ex-president has been at loggerheads with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s government ever since it took office in May 2018. He was first arrested in July 2018. He was twice freed and twice rearrested before Armenia’s Court of Appeals released him on bail in June 2020.

Kocharian announced his return to active politics shortly after the first arrest. He declared in January that he and his political allies will participate in snap parliamentary elections expected later this year. He said they will be Pashinian’s main challengers.

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