The lawmakers -- Armen Charchian, Mkhitar Zakarian and Artur Sargsian -- were arrested this summer on different charges rejected by them as politically motivated.
Hayastan repeatedly demanded their release from custody, citing an article of the Armenian constitution which stipulates that “a deputy may not be deprived of liberty without the consent of the National Assembly.”
Prosecutors and leaders of the parliament’s pro-government majority said, however, that the lawmakers do not enjoy immunity from prosecution because they were indicted before formally taking up their parliament seats. Hayastan appealed to the Constitutional Court in September.
In a ruling made public on Thursday, the court ruled that any citizen automatically gains immunity from prosecution after being elected to the National Assembly and cannot be arrested without the parliament’s consent.
A judge presiding over Charchian’s ongoing trial responded to the ruling by ordering his release from jail. The prominent surgeon was greeted by family members and Hayastan activists as he walked free in the courtroom.
Sargsian and Zakarian were set free without court orders. The Office of the Prosecutor-General acknowledged that they cannot be held in detention after the Constitutional Court’s decision.
Aram Vartevanian, a lawyer and another parliamentarian from Hayastan, condemned the prosecutors’ earlier refusals to free his colleagues.
“Imagine that Hayastan’s parliamentary group had no members skilled in jurisprudence and did not realize that it can appeal to the Constitutional Court on this issue,” Vartevanian told journalists. “The three deputies would have remained under arrest, Armen Charachian’s health condition would have continued to deteriorate and Armenia’s law-enforcement system would have approved that. This is the most despicable thing.”
Despite their release, the opposition deputies were not cleared of the charges leveled against them.
Charchian, who headed Yerevan’s Izmirlian Medical Center, is prosecuted for allegedly pressuring his subordinates to vote in Armenia’s June 20 parliamentary elections. He was first arrested three days after the vote.
The 61-year-old was released on bail at the start of his trial a month later. Armenia’s Court of Appeals sent him back to jail on August 23. Charchian reportedly suffered a heart attack the following day.
Zakarian and Sargsian headed major communities in Syunik province. They were among elected local government officials who demanded Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s resignation following last year’s war in Nagorno-Karabakh. They were arrested on separate corruption charges shortly after the June elections won by Pashinian’s party.