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Opposition claim that Georgia has political prisoners

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, October 12
On October 9, 2009 a meeting between foreign and Georgian non-governmental organisations, opposition members and lawyers was held at the Old Tbilisi hotel. A list of political prisoners whose cases had been studied by Human Rights Committee was discussed. Almost all the leading humanitarian protection organisations in Georgia participated in the work of this Committee.

“The most important thing I must point out is that the international non-governmental organisation FIDH has studied the cases of 8 imprisoned men we consider political prisoners and completely shares our viewpoint in connection with these people. This is the first time an international NGO has officially confirmed the existence of political prisoners in Georgia,” stated United Georgia General Secretary Vakhtang Kolbaia. During the meeting a document was composed which will be signed by the meeting participants in the near future and sent to relevant Government structures, international organisations and the diplomatic corps.

Other opposition parties also commented on this issue. Kakha Kukava, Co-Leader of the Conservative Party, said at the meeting that the Conservatives were pushing for the drafting of a joint memorandum of opposition parties which would set out mechanisms for achieving the release of these political prisoners. This memorandum will probably be signed in two weeks, Kukava said. The list of 67 prisoners includes 37 opposition activists arrested after the street rallies began in April. More that half of these, the Conservatives say, were arrested on “fabricated charges” related to the illegal possession or carrying of arms or drugs.

The list also includes Koba Kobaladze, who was the Commander of the National Guard until 2004. He was arrested on May 5 and charged with plotting a coup. His case is currently being heard by the Tbilisi City Court as part of what is known as the Mukhrovani Munity Trial. Kobaladze, who has already testified, denies the charges against him. The list also includes Sergo Beselia, brother of Eka Beselia, leader of United Georgia, Nora Kvitsiani, sister of wanted warlord Emzar Kvitsiani, and supporters of ex-security chief Igor Giorgadze.

Meetings between NGOs, opposition members and lawyers have been held several times in Georgia. Similar ones were held on 6 and 7 October, but such serious statements did not emerge from them. Jean-Louis Laurens, the Director General of Democracy and Political Affairs for the Council of Europe, met some non-Parliamentary opposition members in Tbilisi on October 7, including Kakha Kukava, Nino Burjanadze the leader of Democratic Movement –United Georgia and Eka Beselia. “Of course we raised the issue of political prisoners arrested just for taking part in the street rallies which started in April,” said Burjanadze after the meeting, adding that the opposition leaders had requested that a Council of Europe official monitor those cases. “The fact that there are political prisoners in Georgia is not directly confirmed by the European structures, so our priority is to study each and every individual case. If this process of study is launched, the Council of Europe will definitely recognise those detainees as political prisoners,” mentioned Kukava after the meeting with Laurens. The day before, on October 6, Laurens had met representatives of Irakli Alasania’s Our Georgia-Free Democrats.

Although the opposition parties state that 8 people have been recognised as political prisoners in Georgia, this has not been confirmed by the authorities.