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Kocharian Backers Demand Armenian Authorities Release Jailed Ex-President

An archive photo of Armenian ex-President Robert Kocharian (right) and ex-Defense Minister Mikael Harutiunian.
An archive photo of Armenian ex-President Robert Kocharian (right) and ex-Defense Minister Mikael Harutiunian.

YEREVAN -- Representatives of jailed former Armenian President Robert Kocharian blasted his arrest, calling it "obvious political and personal persecution" and demanded his immediate release, as the government steps up actions against the country’s previous leaders.

"It's a vendetta, political, and personal revenge that has no legal justification," Kocharian spokesman Victor Soghomonian told a Yerevan news conference on July 28.

"I’m sure you realize what is happening, realize why Robert Kocharian has been declared guilty, realize the speed with which this process took place and that it has nothing to do" with the killings of 10 people on March 1, 2008.

Kocharian, who served as Armenia’s president from 1998 to 2008, was taken into custody on July 27, a day after being charged in connection with the deadly dispersion of opposition protests following the disputed presidential election in 2008.

A Yerevan court ruled that the Special Investigative Service (SIS) could hold Kocharian for two months pending investigation into the crackdown that left 10 people dead, including two police officers.

Kocharian has denied the charges of "overthrowing Armenia's constitutional order" and said they were a "vendetta" by the country's new leadership against him.

Kocharian's was the most high-profile detention in a series of arrests of prominent officials since Nikol Pashinian, a longtime anticorruption campaigner, became prime minister in May.

Pashinian was propelled into government on the backs of mass street protests by Armenians -- many of them young -- who were fed up with the country's persistent corruption and poverty.

Transparency International in 2017 ranked Armenia 107th out of 180 countries on its Corruption Perceptions Index and said that "corruption in Armenia is endemic and widespread, permeating all levels of society."

When he took office in mid-May, Pashinian immediately vowed to tackle the wrongdoing, and charges have followed against several people with ties to the former government.

On the same day that Kocharian was taken into custody, Yuri Khachaturov, the Armenian chief of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), was charged, like Kocharian, with overthrowing Armenia's constitutional order related to the 2008 crackdown.

Khachaturov, who was Armenia's deputy defense minister at the time, has also denied any wrongdoing. He was released after posting bail of about $10,000.

The case dates back to late February and early March 2008 in the wake of a disputed election to determine Kocharian's successor.

Kocharian’s ally, Serzh Sarkisian, was declared the winner, angering the opposition and setting off 10 days of nonstop protests.

Kocharian is accused of illegally ordering the violent dispersal of demonstrators. He has claimed the action was necessary to prevent an illegal takeover of the government by his predecessor, Levon Ter-Petrosian.

Pashinian, who was tried and convicted in 2010 of being an organizer of the 2008 protests, earlier this year demanded the authorities investigate Kocharian’s activities during the postelection violence.

Prosecutors at the time said Pashinian, then an opposition figure in parliament, had no authority to seek such action. The situation changed, however, after the nonviolent Pashinian-led street protests toppled Sarkisian and led to his own election as prime minister.

Early this month, the SIS issued an arrest warrant for retired General Mikael Harutiunian, who served as defense minister during the 2008 unrest.

It charged Harutiunian with "illegally" using the armed forces against the protesters, saying that it also amounted to an “overthrow of constitutional order.”

On July 9, a spokesman for Kocharian denounced the accusations leveled against the fugitive ex-general as a “mockery of the law.” Harutiunian is believed to be living in Moscow.

Pashinian's administration has also brought cases against several close relatives of Sarkisian's family for a variety of alleged financial crimes, although Pashinian insisted that no particular family was being targeted.