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Armenian Court Seeks ECHR 'Advisory Opinion' Over Coup Case Against Ex-President Kocharian

Former Armenian President Robert Kocharian at an appeals court hearing on July 24.
Former Armenian President Robert Kocharian at an appeals court hearing on July 24.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) says Armenia's highest court has requested an "advisory opinion" on part of that country's Criminal Code punishing the "overthrow of the constitutional order," further complicating official efforts in Yerevan to punish a former president for his actions following postelection violence a decade ago.

A five-judge ECHR panel must still decide whether or not to accept the request, which stems from the prosecution in Armenia of ex-President Robert Kocharian on charges of overthrowing the constitutional order during the final weeks of his decade-long rule that ended in April 2008.

In a press release, the European court said on August 9 that the Armenian Constitutional Court's application had been made regarding two cases relating to Article 300.1 of Armenia's Criminal Code, one brought by a Yerevan court and the other by Kocharian himself.

Kocharian was released after a court terminated a criminal case against Kocharian and other senior officials but rearrested after an appellate court overturned those decisions in late June.

In March 2008, after a disputed presidential election the previous month, outgoing President Kocharian declared emergency rule after fatal clashes left at least eight people, including a policeman, dead in the worst civil violence in that country's post-Soviet history.

The Supreme Judicial Council -- a body tasked with ensuring that Armenia's courts exercise judicial power separately from the legislative and executive branches of government -- filed seemingly unrelated forgery charges in July against the judge who had presided over the start of Kocharian's trial before suspending the proceedings and ordering his release.

That same judge, Davit Grigorian, had also referred Kocharian's case to the Constitutional Court.

Supporters of Kocharian and other critics of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian's government have accused law enforcement agencies in Armenia of applying pressure on the judiciary and undermining its independence.

Since April 2018 the European Convention on Human Rights has offered the highest courts in signatory states the chance to ask the court for nonbinding opinions on "questions of principle" relating to aspects of the convention or its protocols. They must relate to cases pending before the requesting court -- in this case the Armenian Constitutional Court.

ECHR "advisory opinions" were established with the completion of ratification by member states in 2018 and are still rare.

The only other case of a country seeking such an opinion was France, whose appeal for European judges' views on surrogacy and parent-child relationships resulted in an opinion in April.

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