Vano Merabishvili Released from Prison, Dives Straight Back into Politics

Former Interior Minister of Georgia Vano Merabishvili was released from the “Matrosov” penitentiary facility early Thursday morning, having spent almost seven years there as, according to the opposition, “a political prisoner”.

On February 17, 2014, the former Interior Minister, one of the most influential figures of the United National Movement, was sentenced to imprisonment after being found guilty of the brutal dispersal of the May 26 rally, hiding of evidence in the Sandro Girgvliani case, voter bribery, and physical abuse of opposition MP Valeri Gelashvili. He was sentenced to 6 years and 9 months in prison.

Merabishvili denied all charges, claiming they were politically motivated. The opposition in turn said his imprisonment was a ‘witch hunt’ against the former government.

The trial for the November 7, 2007 rally crackdown, in which water-cannons were used against demonstrators, and for the raid on Imedi TV, is still ongoing against him. In both cases he stands accused of abuse of power.

Merabishvili told those waiting for him outside the prison that he plans to return to active politics, adding he "guarantees" that the ruling party Georgian Dream, under Bidzina Ivanishvili's leadership, will lose power this year.

"I would like to thank my supporters gathered here and those who show support from far away. With their support and hope for the future, I have retained strength, energy and belief to continue to fight to end this regime this year. I guarantee that this government will be finished within a year," he said.

He also promised that "by the end of the year, after toppling the government, the doors of the 'Matrosov prison' will be thrown wide open."

Merabishvili then stressed the need to change the current government. “It is necessary to do so and we will certainly do so,” he said. “It is necessary for the country to start developing, to move forward, to improve the welfare of our people, to dissolve hopelessness, to give prospects to the youth, to increase employment and wages, and to give decent pensions to older persons. We will definitely win.

"I guarantee you that by the end of the year, after toppling this government, the doors of this prison will be opened for [the release of] every political prisoner. Everyone I know in this prison is a political prisoner," the former Interior Minister said.

He then addressed the Georgian police officers, saying that he will do his best to “restore the dignity” of law enforcers in the country.

“I would like to address the Georgian police officers and tell them that we will do our best, together with our friends, to restore the dignity of the police, restore confidence and improve their social situation,” he noted.

Opposition leaders Giorgi Vashadze and Giga Bokeria welcomed Merabishvili's release.

Giga Bokeria, one of the leaders of European Georgia, believes that Merabishvili's detention is a stain on Georgia's recent democracy. As he told reporters, Bidzina Ivanishvili's political repression targeted people representing a political danger to him.

“This person had been in jail for seven years and I can't talk on his behalf. He has to say it. I’m just glad that after serving such a sentence of seven years in confinement, the political prisoner has now been released.

"This story is a stain on our recent history of democracy. That is why Ivanishvili's regime must end peacefully through elections so that such things never happen in Georgia. Nobody should ever be put in prison due to such a political order," Bokeria said.

Giorgi Vashadze, leader of the New Georgia party, said that the fight for freedom continues and Vano Merabishvili will play his part in it. In light of Ivanishvili's eight-year rule, the success and progress that Georgia achieved from 2003 to 2012 was clearly visible, he said.

“I welcome the release of Vano Merabishvili from illegal detention. In the wake of Ivanishvili's eight-year reign, the efforts, successes and progress that Georgia made from 2003 to 2012 have become even clearer. The fight for freedom continues, and I believe that along with thousands of patriots of the new generations, Vano Merabishvili will play his part in this fight. Freedom for all illegal prisoners!” he stated.

The former President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, also welcomed the news of the ex-interior minister’s release.

"I welcome Vano Merabishvili's release after many years of imprisonment," he wrote on social media, adding that he is "proud of Merabishvili's strength and bravery."

“I am proud of his strength and bravery. I agree that Bidzina Ivanishvili's regime will definitely end. He will be out not because of our personal feelings, but because, like Vano said, our country needs progress and development.

"I call for reconciliation. We must be oriented to the future and not to the past,” Saakashvili wrote.

Photo: IPN

20 February 2020 18:29