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The former President of Armenia, Robert Kocharyan, was released on bail on Monday after an appeal court ruled his detention was unlawful. Kocharyan was forced to cancel a press conference on Tuesday after protesters chanting ‘murderer’ stormed the venue.
The press-conference scheduled for noon was cancelled after a crowd forced their way into the Erebuni Plaza business centre hall, where it was scheduled to take place, occupying the building.
Protesters then moved to the General Prosecutor’s Office to demand Kocharyan’s re-arrest, Panorama reported. A representative of the Prosecutor’s addressed the crowd and promised they would appeal the decision to free him to the Cassation Court.
Protesters storm the Erebuni Plaza business centre chanting ‘murderer’
On the same day, Prime Minister Pashinyan said in a live video on Facebook that he would ‘send to the dustbin of history’ all those who tried to stand in the way of the ‘people’s will’. ‘The power of people has been established in Armenia, and be assured, there is no force in Armenia able to confront it or stop the victory of the popular revolution. Those having these goals will be sent to the dustbin of history […] Establishment of the rule of law has no alternative’, said Pashinyan.
Kocharyan left the court building immediately after Armenia’s Court of Appeals released him from pre-trial detention on Monday, according to his representatives.
His lawyers reiterated that the charges against Kocharyan, Armenia’s second president, were ‘baseless’. According to his lawyer Roben Sahakian, the Court made a decision based on article 140 of the Armenian Constitution, granting the president immunity from prosecution during and after his term for actions ‘deriving from his or her status’. The lawyer did not exclude the possibility that the charges would be dropped altogether.
Forty-six MPs had earlier signed a petition calling for the Prosecutor General’s Office to release Kocharyan on bail, but the Prosecutor’s Office said that doing so ‘could endanger’ the investigation.
In a statement on Monday, the Special Investigative Service (SIS), who brought the case against Kocharyan, called the ruling ‘illegal’ and claimed the the Appellate Court had ‘overstepped the boundaries of their authority’. In their statement, the SIS said they ‘hoped’ the Prosecutor’s Office would appeal to the Cassation Court to challenge the latest ruing.
A ‘cause for concern’
After initially summoning him on 26 July as a witness over the dispersal of anti-government protests in 2008, the SIS changed Kocharyan’s status during questioning to a suspect. Before being remanded into pre-trial custody in his first court hearing the next day, Kocharyan called the charges against him ‘political persecution’ and a ‘vendetta’ to ‘isolate’ him from upcoming snap parliamentary elections.
[Read more about Kocharyan’s interview on OC Media: Armenian ex-president Robert Kocharyan charged over 2008 crackdown]
Others being targeted by the investigation into the 2008 events include former Defence Minister Mikayel Harutyunyan, charged with breaching the constitution by allegedly issuing a clandestine order to use the army against protesters and the former Deputy Defence Minister and Chief of the Yerevan garrison during the 2008 events, Yuri Khachaturov, who was released on ֏5 million ($10,000) bail.
The 72-year-old Harutyunyan currently resides in Russia.
Khachaturov has served as Secretary General of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) since May 2017. The organisation, created by Russia, also includes Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. According to article 11 of the Agreement on the legal status of the CSTO, it’s Secretary General is considered an international civil servant and he and members of his family enjoy diplomatic privileges and immunities under the 1961 Vienna Convention.
On 31 July, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticised the Armenian government for deviating from their commitment to pursuing ‘unifying approaches and attempting to consolidate national consensus’ and called the recent developments a ‘cause for concern, including from the point of view of normal operations of the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] organisations Armenia is a member of’. Two days later, the SIS claimed the charges against Khachaturov do not bar him from leaving the country. Citing his ‘urgent responsibilities’ as CSTO Secretary, Khachaturov left for Russia on 4 August.
A deadly crackdown
Protests erupted in February 2008 after an ally of then president Robert Kocharyan, Serzh Sargsyan, was declared the winner in contested presidential elections. The opposition led by Levon Ter-Petrosyan insisted the election results were rigged. In 10 days of protests peaking in the 1 March crackdown, eight civilians and two police officers were killed, and more than 200 people injured.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who was an active supporter of Ter-Petrosyan, was imprisoned in 2010 accused of being one of the organisers of ‘violent’ 2008 rallies. Pashinyan, who was editor-in-chief of Armenian daily Haykakan Zhamanak at the time of the protests, was sentenced to seven years in prison but released in 2011 under an amnesty.
A month before ousting Serzh Sargsyan in April in Armenia’s ‘Velvet Revolution’, Pashinyan demanded Kocharyan be questioned over allegations demonstrators shot at security forces, a justification Kocharyan used for deploying the army against them. In 2008, the authorities also insisted that some demonstrators set fire to police vehicles and buses. The General Prosecutor’s Office refused to summon Kocharyan. On 12 June, Pashinyan publicly called on the SIS to ‘finally’ investigate the killings.
Robert Kocharyan served as Armenia’s second president, from 1998–2008. He was also the first president of Nagorno-Karabakh, from 1994–1997, and was previously a prominent leader of Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence movement.