Handing over the Elect to Justice in Armenia: Is Tsarukyan Unique?

Handing over the Elect to Justice in Armenia: Is Tsarukyan Unique?

A quick look into the Third Republic's parliamentary history.

Text: Tigran Zakaryan

 

The single most important political event of the recent several days in Armenia is stripping the opposition Prosperous Armenia party’s leader MP Gagik Tsarukyan of parliamentary immunity. Charges brought against him involve illegal business activity and vote buying. While the opposition boycotted the voting, the 87 votes of the ruling My Step faction were enough for approving the move.

Many might think that it is a unique case in the recent Armenian history that an influential opposition leader is stripped of parliamentary immunity and charged of criminal offence, yet it is not the case. Let us look into similar cases of immunity stripping in the recent history of Armenia since its independence.

First of all it is worth seeing where the notion of parliamentary immunity comes from. Not unexpectedly it originates in Great Britain, where after a political turmoil and upheavals of the 17th century and the bloodless Glorious Revolution of 1688, a document called the Bill of Rights was adopted. Among other things this document on reducing the royal powers, adopted in 1689, guaranteed the freedom of speech to the MPs who otherwise could be held responsible only by the parliament itself, rather than the king’s courts.

Times change and instead of king’s courts new specialized ones and a whole branch of judiciary emerged and it became only natural in certain cases to strip some of MPs of their immunity to be able to prosecute them criminally.

 

1996   

Back to Armenian matters - the first time an Armenian MP in modern history has been stripped of immunity and prosecuted was, following the controversial presidential elections of 1996, in which incumbent president Levon Ter-Petrosyan was declared winner. The united opposition, headed by Vazgen Manukyan refused to concede to have lost the race and in a dramatic event in the night of 25 to 26 September 1996 the crowd of protesters broke into the parliament premises and physically attacked Speaker Babken Ararktsian and Deputy Speaker Ara Sahakyan.

The next day in a scandalous parliament session during which several opposition MPs have beaten by their colleagues from the ruling faction, it was decided to strip of immunity MPs Seyran Avakyan, Ruben Hakobyan, Paruyr Hayrikyan, Shavarsh Kocharyan, Vazgen Manukyan, Arshak Sadoyan, Davit Vardanyan and Nerses Zeynalvandyan. While some of them were arrested, others, like Arshak Sadoyan, Vazgen Manukyan went into hiding. Meanwhile Paruyr Hayrikyan who was present at the parliament session on the aftermath of the parliament storming, although stripped of immunity, was not arrested.

Vazgen Manukyan 

 

1998

The Prosecutor General’s office knocked at the door of the parliament with a request of stripping an MP of immunity next time in 1998. MP Nver Chakhoyan was suspect of some criminal offence against a private person, however only 11 MPs voted for the motion and later it was said the he restituted the assets which he illegally had seized from the injured party.

 

1999

In the next instance the parliament conceded to stripping immunity of MP Mushegh Movsisyan. He was suspected of links with the terrorists who on 27 October 1999 stormed into the parliament and killed several high-ranking officials, including the Prime Minister and the Speaker. He was arrested and handcuffed right in the hall of the sessions however was subsequently released to die in a car crash in May 2004.

2000

Another case of immunity stripping was linked to a most controversial figure Vano Siradeghyan, once the interior minister, who was charged with masterminding murder plots in 1992-1995. In April 2000 he was stripped of immunity and later of the mandate. However he managed to go in hiding before a warrant for his arrest was issued. Ever since Siradeghyan’s whereabouts is unknown and he is still wanted internationally. 

 

2006  

In October 2006 the parliament again conceded to stripping MP Hakob Hakobyan of immunity, following a shootout incident, in which he and his associated were involved.  

 

2008

The next case is probably the most remembered in the recent history of Armenia, as it was immediately following the 2008 presidential elections, marred with highly debated outcomes and use of force, bringing about ten deaths. Prosecutor General requested stripping MPs Hakob Hakobyan (namesake to the one mentioned above), Myasnik Malkhasyan, Sasun Mikayelyan, Khachatur Sukiasyan. All four were charged of instigating public unrest and while the first three were arrested, convicted and later pardoned, while the latter stayed in the hiding over a considerable period. Later the charges against Sukiasyan were dropped following his renunciation of the mandate.

 

2012

Another case in 2012 was that of MP from the Prosperous Armenia, Vardan Oskanyan, who was accused of embezzlement. The voting was held in tense environment as opposition MPs boycotted the move, however the majority backed it. However the case, which Oskanyan himself considered as politically motivated was dropped as early as in July 2013.

 

2018

Curiously enough incumbent Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan could also be in the list and on April 22, 2018 after his brief detention a formal request was about to be submitted to the parliament for granting permission to prosecute him, however in the wake of precipitously unfolding events he was released and the move was quickly scrapped.

In the same year two more times such requests were submitted by the Prosecutor General’s office to the parliament. The first is the case, on June 19 2018 MP Manvel Grigoryan was stripped of immunity and later charged of illegal activity, including embezzlement. Currently he is under arrest and facing trial.  

In the latest instance MP Aram Harutyunyan, a former Environment Minister, was charged of bribery, yet the voting on stripping him of immunity scheduled for 4 December 2018 did not take place due to the absence of quorum. Shortly thereafter the parliament ended its activities and a new one was elected, while Harutyunyan, quite expectedly went into hiding.  

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This list of cases shows that not all of the votings were smooth and in some cases the MPs even resisted to concede to arresting and prosecuting their colleague and in some cases the MPs accused were subsequently released or pardoned.

Time will show if Tsarukyan will be cleared of the charge or not and in the final run we will see if he was a true political figure or a disguised criminal seeking to ensure his immunity through a parliamentary mandate.