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Armenian High Court Drops Criminal Case Against Ex-President Kocharian

Former President Robert Kocharian
Former President Robert Kocharian

YEREVAN -- Armenia’s Constitutional Court has ruled that a criminal case against former President Robert Kocharian must be dropped, ending a legal saga over a deadly crackdown on protesters more than a decade ago.

The high court on March 26 found “invalid” an article of the Criminal Code under which Armenia’s second president was being prosecuted.

Court Chairman Arman Dilanian said Article 300.1 of the Criminal Code regarding “overthrowing the constitutional order” runs counter to two articles of the constitution. The decision is final.

The ruling means Kocharian’s case must be terminated, according to the ex-president’s lawyer Aram Vardevanian.

Prosecutors did not immediately comment.

Kocharian, who served as the South Caucasus country's president from 1998 to 2008, was accused of violating the constitutional order by sending police to disperse postelection protests in Yerevan in 2008. Eight demonstrators and two police officers died in the clashes.

The ex-president, who is also accused of taking bribes in a separate case, has rejected the allegations against him as political retaliation by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian. Kocharian was released from detention in June 2020 after paying a record $4.1 million bail.

Pashinian was one of the organizers of the 2008 protest and was ultimately jailed until being released in 2011 under a government amnesty.

Pashinian came to power in 2018 after leading massive demonstrations that ousted his predecessor.

The high court verdict comes as Armenia prepares for early parliamentary elections in June, triggered by opposition demands Pashinian step down over his leadership during a six-week war with Azerbaijan over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, which ended in what many Armenians felt was a humiliating defeat.

Kocharian, a native of Nagorno-Karabakh, was one of the leaders of the region's separatist forces and was Nagorno-Karabakh’s first de facto president between December 1994 and March 1997.

In January, Kocharian said he would participate in any early elections.

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