YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Armenia’s courts must allow law-enforcement authorities to again arrest former President Robert Kocharian in connection with the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan, Prosecutor-General Artur Davtian insisted on Wednesday.
Kocharian was arrested in July on charges stemming from the deadly breakup of opposition demonstrations during the final weeks of his 1998-2008 rule. He strongly denies the accusations, saying that the current Armenian government is waging a political “vendetta” against him.
The Court of Appeals freed the 64-year-old in August, saying that the Armenian constitution gives him immunity from prosecution. Both state prosecutors and Kocharian appealed against that ruling. The latter claimed that there were also other legal grounds for his release.
Earlier this month, the Court of Cassation, the country’s highest body of criminal justice, ordered the Court of Appeals to examine the case anew. The latter began hearings on the matter on Tuesday.
Davtian is personally attending the hearings along with several other prosecutors. “Our position is that [Kocharian] must stay under arrest,” he told reporters.
“We are making arguments substantiating the need for the second president’s arrest at this stage of the investigation,” added the chief prosecutor.
Kocharian is specifically accused of illegally using the armed forces against opposition supporters who protested against alleged fraud in a disputed presidential election held in February 2008. Law-enforcement authorities say that amounted to an overthrow of the constitutional order.
Eight protesters and two police personnel were killed when security forces quelled those protests on March 1-2, 2008.
The Court of Appeals assigned the case to one of its judges, Ruben Mkhitarian, by a draw, prompting strong objections from Kocharian’s lawyers. They claimed that this is a violation of Armenian law and demanded Mkhitarian’s replacement. The judge rejected the demand on Wednesday.
One of the defense lawyers, Hayk Alumian, said they will file other court petitions on Thursday. In particular, he said, they will demand that Mkhitarian ask Armenia’s Constitutional Court to rule on an article of the Criminal Code used against the ex-president. The lawyers believe that the article is unconstitutional, said Alumian.
Kocharian announced his return to active politics just days after his release from prison. He has repeatedly accused Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s government of endangering the country’s national security, undermining its relations with Russia and lacking economic programs. Still, he decided not run in snap parliamentary elections slated for December 9.
Pashinian, who played a key role in the 2008 protests and spent nearly two years in prison because of that, has strongly defended the criminal case against Kocharian. “All murderers will go to prison,” he declared on August 17.