Armenian Catholicos requests authorities release ex-president Robert Kocharyan from prison
Catholicos of All Armenians Garegin II said on April 14 that ex-President of Armenia Robert Kocharyan’s release from prison should be considered given the coronavirus situation and Kocharyan’s health condition.
On April 15, the head of the Armenian church received a harsh response from the prime minister’s spokesperson.
This was followed by an appeal from the press service of the Mother See of Etchmiadzin, asking people not to politicize the words of the patriarch:
“Unfortunately, only a fragment of the original sentiment expressed by the Catholicos of All Armenians was presented, and his mention of the second president of Armenia has been taken out of context and twisted.”
In July 2018, Robert Kocharyan was charged with overthrowing the constitutional order. This was in reference to the use of brutality while breaking up a demonstration in Yerevan in March 2008, which resulted in the death of 10 people. After the Velvet Revolution in the spring of 2018, the new Armenian government resumed the investigation of those events, and Robert Kocharyan was one of the first accused.
The first time he was arrested in connection to these charges was on July 28, 2018. The ex-president’s lawyers have repeatedly tried to convince the court to change the terms of Kocharyan’s punishment. They succeeded twice. The last time Kocharyan was arrested on June 25, 2019.
What the Catholicos said
News.am cited Garegin II as stating that Kocharyan should be subject to the full judicial process, but that steps should also be taken to prevent his health from deteriorating. It was also said that, taking into considering the opinion of medical professionals, the patriarch considers it a possibility to change Kocharyan’s punishment – that is, to release him from prison.
The ex-president periodically receives in-patient treatment in medical clinics. The last time Robert Kocharyan was hospitalized on March 7. He was discharged from the hospital on April 3.
The head of the church said that in light of the coronavirus pandemic in many countries of the world, special attention is paid to those in custody:
“There are many welcome steps being taken, such as releasing and (or) changing the sentence of prisoners who are not dangerous to society, in order to protect them from the dangerous virus. In such matters, the Church’s position is based on the divine message of love, compassion and care. And in this sense, our call is to ensure that the authorities of our country take the necessary steps.”
Harsh response from the government
The response from the authorities was not long coming. It was voiced by a spokesman for the prime minister the very next day. Mane Gevorgyan stated that the government does not intend to comment on the “hopes and desires” of the Catholicos.
Moreover, she recalled a time that the church, or rather, the head of the press service of the Mother See of Etchmiadzin, Priest Vahram Melikyan, vouched for another prisoner.
She was referring to his plea to change the sentence of businessman Samvel Mayrapetyan, who is also involved in the criminal case regarding the events of March 2008.
“Mairapetyan left the country under the pretext of treatment in January 2019 and, despite the demand of the investigating authorities and guarantees of Vahram Melikyan, did not return to Armenia,” said the prime minister’s spokesperson Mane Gevorgyan.
The head of the press service says that the government expects that the Mother See of Etchmiadzin will recall the incident with Mairapetyan and provide an explanation.
Opinions of the defense
Kocharyan’s lawyers also took issue with his detention during the coronavirus epidemic:
“Kocharyan is in the risk group for coronavirus, as he is over 60 years old and has health problems, but continues to remain in the penal institution, while there are already confirmed cases of COVID-19 there.”
The defense states that Kocharyan’s imprisonment in light of the current situation is a sign of inhumane treatment.