Former Armenian president recently released from prison withdraws appeal case to Constitutional Court concerning criminal case charges against him
The lawyers of ex-President of Armenia Robert Kocharyan have withdrawn their appeal to the Constitutional Court filed a year ago requesting whether Kocharyan’s actions back in March 2008 could be equated to ‘overthrowing the constitutional order’, or Article 300.1 of the Criminal Code, with which he is now faced with a criminal charge.
The charges refer to an order he gave back in March 2008 to break up a protest against the results of the March 2008 presidential election. Military weapons were used in Yerevan, killing 10 people, two of whom were police officers.
Kocharyan was arrested on July 28, 2018, and his lawyers managed to release him from pretrial custody three times. He was last released from custody on bail following a court decision made on June 19, 2020.
Kocharyan’s lawyers say that he himself made the decision to withdraw the application from the Constitutional Court because the opposition intends to challenge certain constitutional amendments adopted by parliament in the Constitutional Court. However, representatives of the Bright Armenia opposition party said they would appeal to the Constitutional Court after the ex-president’s court date, scheduled for July 7.
Kocharyan’s lawyers say he made this decision in order not to interfere with the opposition’s appeal to the court.
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The issue the opposition intends to challenge
On June 22, the Armenian parliament adopted draft constitutional amendments, which state that judges in the Constitutional Court who have already served a 12-year term must retire. A new chairman will be elected from those who remain.
Both opposition factions refused to attend this parliamentary meeting. They believe the parliament does not have the power to amend the country’s constitution. But the project was unanimously approved by the deputies of the ruling My Step Bloc, who alone have enough votes to make the decision.
The amendments are meant to remove most of the judges in the Constitutional Court, (in particular, the chairman) who were elected under the previous administration. The current government, which came to power after the Velvet Revolution in 2018, considers them incapable of making fair decisions in the “new” Armenia.
The Prosperous Armenia Faction stated that it was going to appeal to the Constitutional Court to determine the constitutionality of the parliament’s decision. A minimum of 27 signatures is needed to appeal to the highest court – that is, one fifth of the members of parliament. Prosperous Armenia has 25 MPs.
In order to collect the required number of signatures, the faction called on the Bright Armenia Party to join their cause.
The party leadership announced that Bright Armenia will appeal to the Constitutional Court after Kocharyan’s court proceedings in order to avoid politicizing the issue.
On June 25, while the opposition factions were considering how they would appeal the amendments, the speaker of the parliament had already published the adopted constitutional amendments, meaning that they would go into effect the following day.
During the briefing, Kocharyan’s lawyers Aram Vardevanyan and Aram Orbelyan explained why their client made this decision.
“This morning we discussed this issue with Kocharyan, and he stated that if his case was becoming an obstacle to the development of parliamentarism, the lawsuits should be withdrawn…so that no one would think to say, ‘If not for you, the MPs would have appealed, the Constitutional Court would have made a decision, and the constitutional order would not have been overthrown.’ I ask all politicians from this day to stop procrastinating using the names of Robert Kocharyan, Aram Vardevanyan, Aram Orbelyan, and to stop using our statements to justify their inaction,” said Orbelyan.
Bright Armenia’s response
Robert Kocharian’s lawyers want to turn the legal process into a political one, said the leader of the Bright Armenia Party, Edmon Marukyan, an hour after their briefing.
“The lawyers’ decision to recall their appeal does not mean that his case will not be considered on July 7, as in addition to the Constitutional Court, they also appealed to the lower court with the same questions. We reiterate that we will contact the Constitutional Court after his court proceedings,” said Marukyan.
He says that the previous government wants to take the place of the opposition, and is doing everything to neutralize Bright Armenia.
Prosperous Armenia’s response
Prosperous Armenia MP Naira Zohrabyan had this to say about Bright Armenia’s decision:
“I can’t say what will happen after July 7, because so far there we have not discussed it within our party. I don’t think that we should have connected the shameful constitutional coup that took place in the National Assembly with the case that should have been considered in the Constitutional Court on July 1, July 7, or, say, August 6. However, this is the decision made by our colleagues, and we took their position into account. As for the others, we still have time to discuss what we action we will take after July 7.”
The prime minister’s response
After the parliament passed the constitutional amendments, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan wrote on his Facebook page that he was proud of his political party, the My Step Bloc:
“The National Assembly adopted amendments to the constitution, according to which the current chairman of the Constitutional Court is removed from office, and three members of the Constitutional Court must retire.”
With regard to reform in the judicial system of the country as a whole, the prime minister said:
“We are reforming the system. The issue of the courts has not yet been resolved for one reason: we do not want to replace one puppet system with another. We want an independent court in the country. Judges who is able to make decisions according to his convictions and conscience, without influence from the outside and without the old corruption nostalgia will make a decision, he…will become the pillar of this country. And we will do everything to protect these people. And we will do everything to discard the rest out of the judicial system, and nothing will stop us.”