Former President Robert Kocharyan

Kocharyan Freed Pending Trial

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YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — A court in Yerevan on Saturday, May 18, ordered Armenia’s former President Robert Kocharyan released from prison pending the outcome of a trial on coup charges.

Announcing the decision, the judge presiding over the trial, Davit Grigoryan, cited written guarantees of Kocharyan’s “adequate behavior” which were signed by the current and former presidents of Nagorno-Karabakh during a court hearing on Thursday.

Nagorno-Karabakh’s current and former leaders, President Bako Sahakyan and his predecessor Arkady Ghukassyan, appeared before a court in Yerevan on Thursday to reaffirm their calls for the release of Armenia’s Karabakh-born former President Robert Kocharyan from custody.

first asked the court to free Kocharyan pending the outcome of his trial on Tuesday. They said they can guarantee that the ex-president will display “appropriate behavior” and not obstruct justice if set free.

Each deposited 500,000 drams ($1,030) before signing a relevant document in the courtroom.

They then sat next to Kocharyan as the court continued hearings on his lawyers’ separate demand for his release.

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Kocharyan, who governed Armenia from 1998 to 2008, was set free about an hour later, according to his lawyers.

The trial prosecutors said they will appeal against the judge’s decision which sparked jubilant scenes among Kocharyan supporters present in the small courtroom.

Hundreds of backers and critics of the 64-year-old ex-president demonstrated, meanwhile, outside the court building in the city’s Nor Nork district. Riot police deployed additional forces there to keep the two rival groups apart.

The first four preliminary sessions of the closely watched trial, which began on May 13, focused Kocharyan’s and his lawyers’ demands for his release from custody. The prosecution led by Armenia’s Prosecutor-General Artur Davtyan objected to them, saying that the defendant could obstruct justice and even flee the country if freed.

Kocharyan dismissed the objections, arguing that he flew back from Europe shortly after being summoned for interrogation in June last year.

Kocharyan was first arrested and charged in July with overthrowing the constitutional order in the wake of a disputed presidential election held in February 2008, two months before he served out his second and final presidential term.

The Special Investigative Service (SIS) says that he illegally used Armenian army units against supporters of his predecessor and main opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian, who protested against alleged electoral fraud. Kocharyan denies the accusation as politically motivated.

Eight protesters and two police officers were killed in street clashes that broke out in central Yerevan late on March 1, 2008. Citing the deadly violence, Kocharyan declared a state of emergency and ordered army units into the capital on that night. Nobody has been prosecuted in connection with those deaths.

The same coup charges were also leveled against Kocharyan’s former chief of staff Armen Gevorgyan and two retired top army generals, Seyran Ohanyan and Yuri Khachaturov. The three men, who have not been held in pre-trial detention, deny them.

Earlier this year, Kocharyan and Gevorgyan were also charged with bribe-taking. They reject this accusation as well.

Robert Kocharyan hugs Karabakh President Bako Sahakyan while former NKR President Arkady Ghukassyan can be seen in the foreground.

On Friday, Kocharyan’s lawyers showed journalists footage of the 2008 clashes which they said exonerates their client. The Office of the Prosecutor-General responded by accusing of them of resorting to “manipulations” and putting “psychological pressure” on Judge Grigoryan.

In a statement, the prosecutors also warned that they could take unspecified measures to stop the “spread of these lies generated with the help of certain media outlets and real or fake social media users.”

One of the defense lawyers, Hayk Alumyan, countered on Saturday that the authorities and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in particular themselves have been pressuring courts dealing with the high-profile case. In particular, Alumyan said that earlier in the day a parliament deputy close to Pashinyan, Hayk Sargsian, urged government supporters to rally outside the court and press the judge to keep Kocharyan behind bars.

Pashinyan’s press secretary, Vladimir Karapetyan, dismissed those claims shortly after Kocharyan’s release. He said the court order showed that the Armenian judiciary enjoys “complete freedom” thanks to last year’s “velvet revolution” which brought Pashinyan to power.

In a Facebook post, Karapetyan also signaled Pashinyan’s disapproval of that order. He said that “the old judicial system” continues to function in Armenia and to be mistrusted by the public.

Kocharyan was already freed from custody in August. The Court of Appeals ruled at the time that Armenia’s constitution gives him immunity from prosecution on charges stemming from the dramatic events of February-March 2008.

Acting on prosecutors’ appeal, the higher Court of Cassation overturned that ruling in November, ordering the Court of Appeals to examine the case anew. The latter allowed law-enforcement authorities to press charges against Kocharyan and again arrest him in December.

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