Kocharian as well as two retired generals were charged in 2018 with overthrowing the constitutional order” under Article 300.1 of the Armenian Criminal Code. The accusation rejected by them as politically motivated stems from the 2008 post-election unrest that left ten people dead.
The current Criminal Code was enacted after the dramatic events of March 2008. In a March 26 ruling, the Constitutional Court backed defense lawyers’ arguments that it cannot be applied retroactively against Kocharian and the other defendants.
Citing the court ruling, the lawyers demanded last week that the Anna Danibekian, the judge presiding over their two-year trial, throw out the coup charges. Danibekian accepted the demand.
The judge ruled that Kocharian and his former chief of staff, Armen Gevorgian, will continue to stand trial only on bribery charges which they also strongly deny. She fully acquitted the two other defendants, retired Generals Yuri Khachaturov and Seyran Ohanian, who were prosecuted only in connection with the post-election unrest.
Prosecutor-General Artur Davtian last week appealed to the Constitutional Court to also declare unconstitutional legal provisions that do not allow the prosecutors to alter the coup accusations leveled against the defendants. The trial prosecutors said the coup trial should therefore be suspended, rather than discontinued altogether, pending a high court ruling on the appeal.
One of them, Petros Petrosian, said after Danibekian’s decision that the prosecutors could again indict Kocharian over the 2008 crackdown on opposition protesters in Yerevan if the Constitutional Court grants Davtian’s request.
One of Kocharian’s lawyers, Aram Orbelian, insisted, however, that the high court exonerated the ex-president from all responsibility for the bloodshed. “There are no grounds for bringing new [coup] charges,” Orbelian told reporters.
Meanwhile, a lawyer representing the families of nine victims of the unrest deplored the development. Tigran Yegorian hit out at the Constitutional Court, saying that its March 26 ruling was politically motivated and violated the Armenian constitution.
Five of the court’s nine judges were installed after the “Velvet Revolution” of April-May 2018 which brought Nikol Pashinian to power.
Pashinian was one of the main speakers at daily opposition rallies held in Yerevan in the wake of a disputed presidential election held in February 2008 at the end of Kocharian’s second and final term in office. Riot police used force to end the protests on March 1-2, 2008. Eight protesters and two police servicemen were killed as a result.
Pashinian and dozens of other opposition figures were subsequently jailed for organizing what the former Armenian authorities described as “mass disturbances” aimed at overthrowing the government.
Law-enforcement authorities radically changed the official version of events shortly after the 2018 regime change. They first arrested Kocharian in July 2018. He was twice freed and twice rearrested before Armenia’s Court of Appeals released him on bail in June 2020.
The 66-year-old ex-president has said that his prosecution is part of a “political vendetta” waged by Pashinian. The Armenian prime minister denies any interference in the probe of the 2008 violence.