MEPs Address Georgian Gov’t to Free Ex-PM Merabishvili

Nine MEPs, calling themselves “strong supporters of Georgia; its sovereignty, territorial integrity and the European choice of its people,” have sent a letter to the Georgian President, Prime Minister and the Parliament Speaker, calling for the release of the former Georgian Prime Minister, Ivane Merabishvili.

The letter reads that Georgia is viewed as one of the most advanced in the context of democracy, among Eastern Partnership countries. However, the MEPs underline “this is not least because it has vibrant pro-western opposition and free media outside government control. “

The parliamentarians urge the Georgian government to release Merabishvili with “no delay”, reminding them to respect the final verdicts of the Grand Chamber of the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) over Merabishvili, who is in prison on several charges.

The verdict, made on November 28, imposed the government of Georgia to pay Merabishvili €4,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage. The Grand Chamber also found that the Government breached Article 18 of the European Convention on Human Rights when arresting Merabishvili.

“In today’s challenging international security environment, it is in the interests of the Georgian people that all political forces find common ground and look to the future. With this in mind, we call on the Georgian authorities to release Mr. Merabishvili without delay,” the MEPs stated.

The letter also touches upon some other issues in the country, like the role of parliament and the necessity of media pluralizm.

“The parliamentary scrutiny of the executive is a fundamental principle in every democracy. Prime Minister and ministers should not be avoiding parliamentary scrutiny,” the letter says.

The MEPs also mentioned that the dispute around Georgia’s most pro-opposition broadcaster ‘Rustavi 2’ raises concerns, indicating there were “efforts to change its ownership.”

“We remain committed supporters of Georgia and its democratic, European future. However, the responsibility of ensuring that Georgia’s progress continues primarily rests on those whom the Georgian people elected to govern their country”, says the letter signed by MEPs Petras Auštrevičius, David McAllister, Anna Elżbieta Fotyga, Ivan Štefanec, Zigmantas Balčytis, Faria José Inácio, Jaromír Štětina, Sandra Kalniete and Hilde Vautmans. 

Ivane Merabishvili served as PM and Interior Minister of Georgia under the previous United National Movement (UNM) government, when Mikheil Saakashvili was President. He was arrested in May 2013 after the current ruling Georgian Dream (GD) coalition won the 2012 parliamentary elections. 

Georgian opposition parties claim Ivanishvili’s arrest was politically motivated. They also urge the Georgian government to release the ex-PM.

Khatia Dekanoidze from the UNM claims Georgia has become a place where people remain behind bars because they did not give testimony against ex-President Saakashvili, who is wanted for various charges in his homeland.

“The government has to release Ivanishvili because of the verdict of ECHR and calls from international society,” Dekanoidze stressed.

Another opposition party, European Georgia, which was the part of the UNM until January 2017, also supports Merabishvili, saying it is clear that he is a “political prisoner.”

“Such high-level comments have never been made over Merabishvili’s case. I hope the Georgian government will take into account the will of such high-ranking people,” Giorgi Kandelaki from the European Georgia said.

In February 2014, a Georgian court found Merabishvili guilty on the charge of exceeding his official power, and he was subsequently sentenced to four years and six months in prison. 

Ivanishvili claimed he was innocent, adding his pre-trial detention was politically motivated as he was appointed Secretary General of the UNM after the 2012 parliamentary elections, and intended to participate in the 2013 Presidential elections also. 

The defendant filed a lawsuit to the ECHR, which in June 2016 ruled out that Merabishvili’s pre-trial detention was lawful, and based on reasonable grounds decided that Georgia was to pay Merabishvili €4,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage and €8,000 for costs and expenses. 

The decision of compensation was later appealed by the Georgian side, but the Grand Chamber upheld the decision of the ECHR, made in June last year.  The ECHR said that Merabishvili’s pre-trial detention had not principally been meant to remove him from Georgia’s political scene. However, the Court concluded that the predominant purpose of that restriction had changed over time.

Georgia’s Justice Minister Thea Tsulukiani said that the key point of the verdict was that Merabishvili’s pre-trail detention did not have political motives, and that the Grand Chamber’s decision “ended all speculations regarding this issue.”

Photo: Ivane Merabishvili is in prison for various charges.


By Thea Morrison

18 December 2017 11:26