YEREVAN (Azatutyun.am)—Former Former President Robert Kocharian was again taken into custody on Friday after an Armenian court allowed his pre-trial arrest on charges stemming from the deadly break-up of 2008 post-election protests in Yerevan.
Kocharian reiterated his claims that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan is waging a political “vendetta” against him as he headed to a prison in the Armenian capital following the decision made by the Court of Appeals.
Another judge of the same court ordered Kocharian’s release in August, three weeks after he was first arrested. The judge said that the Armenian constitution gives the ex-president immunity from prosecution.
Article 140 of the constitution says: “During the term of his or her powers and thereafter, the President of the Republic may not be prosecuted and subjected to liability for actions deriving from his or her status.”
Last 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 ruled this time around that investigators can hold Kocharian under arrest pending trial.
Kocharian’s lawyers condemned the ruling as politically motivated. They said that the court acted under strong pressure from the government and law-enforcement bodies.
One of the lawyers, Ruben Sahakyan, linked the development to Sunday’s parliamentary elections, implying that Pashinyan is thus trying to win more votes. “We will appeal to the European Court of Human Rights,” he told reporters.
“This verdict is unprecedented in terms of violations of the due process,” said the other lawyer, Hayk Alumyan.
In a statement read out by his spokesman, Victor Soghomonyan, Kocharian likewise charged that the appeals court’s decision to sanction his renewed arrest was the result of a “political decision.”
“I am fully determined to continue my political struggle in prison,” said the statement. “Let the authorities and their sponsors have no hopes that they can break my will.”
The Special Investigative Service (SIS), a law-enforcement body investigating the 2008 violence, did not rush to arrest Kocharian following the court’s decision. According to the ex-president’s lawyers, the 64-year-old himself went to a basement prison in downtown Yerevan to turn himself in several hours after the announcement of the decision.
An SIS spokeswoman told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) later in the evening that he has been placed under arrest.
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 the protests on March 1-2, 2008.
Pashinyan played a key role in the protests and spent nearly two years in prison because of that. He has strongly defended the criminal case against Kocharian. “All murderers will go to prison,” he declared in August.
In his statement, Kocharian again branded Pashinyan as “the main organizer of the disturbances.” He claimed that the former journalist and opposition activist is now trying to “clean himself from the blood” shed during the unrest.
The high-profile arrest was also strongly condemned by the opposition Republican Party of Armenia whose top leader, Serzh Sarkisian, succeeded Kocharian as president of the republic in April 2008. It said Pashinyan is exacting “personal revenge” and bullying courts for that purpose.
“It is evident that the authorities and Pashinyan in particular organized this arrest to also strengthen the atmosphere of fear, demonstrate force and step up pressure on their opponents in this pre-election period,” the Republican Party of Armenia’s governing board said in a statement.
The statement also cited Pashinyan’s and SIS chief Sasun Khachatryan’s leaked phone conversations with Artur Vanetsyan, the head of the National Security Service (NSS), which were posted on the Internet. Vanetsyan can be heard saying in those audio clips that he told a district court judge in Yerevan to allow Kocharian’s first arrest in July.
Pashinyan on Wednesday condemned the secret recordings as a “war declared against the Armenian state.” He pointed the finger at the “corrupt system” that ruled Armenia before he came to power in a wave of mass protests in May this year.