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Monday, October 11
Some time ago RIA Novosty arranged a roundtable for representatives of the Georgian opposition and human right organizations that was attended also by Russian human rights defenders: Ludmila Alekseeva, Valentin Genter, Sergei Kovalev, Aleskei Simonov, and Ernst Cherny.

The meeting participants discussed a wide range of issues related to human rights in Georgia. After the visit to Georgia, Sergei Kovalev, Aleksei Simonov, and Ernst Cherny shared their observations and analyzed the situation in the country.


(How they do it in Georgia)

This article is about Georgia, yet similar concerns may be also expressed with regard to Russia that we always discuss, as well as to most of other post-Soviet countries.

A state that has political prisoners cannot be democratic in principle, as judicial decisions, motivated by reasons other than legal ones, destroy the main idea of justice. A court may only be independent or otherwise there is no court at all. But where judiciary does not exist it is unavoidably substituted by authoritative arbitrariness. Needless to explain what happens to other democratic institutions in a state that has no judiciary: similar to courts, these are just imitated.

By estimates of competent human rights organizations, today Georgia has over 60 political prisoners. By default, all these have been sent to prison on some trumped up charges, primarily for storing drugs or arms.

Let us consider the example of Vladimer Vakhania’s case. Why Vakhania? An important reason for the Committee of Scientists’ Rights Protection is his being a Russian citizen and a doctor of law. More important, Vakhania’s case is known in detail. There is another reason for the authors: speaking mildly, we very much disagree with V. Vakhania’s historical and political views extensively presented in his numerous publications. Thus we are protecting not a person whose ideas we share, but the rights and justice that are equal for everyone.

Vakhania’s case is typical for politically-motivated criminal cases.

A founder of a new opposition party, called ‘Entire Georgia’, Vakhania supported the idea of neutral Georgia, the rule of law, security of citizens, separation of business from power, independent and fair judiciary system. Noteworthy, the criminal case was initiated on March 11 2009, the day when the founding congress of the party was held. The party then failed to register for a strange reason: the notaries did not come to the congress, so it was registered only after Vakhania was charged.

Let us now get back to October 2008, before the case was initiated.

Vakhania lived in Russia for a long time, so he had both the Russian and Georgian citizenship, and, respectively, 2 passports.

Vakhania came to Georgia for some family reasons in summer 2008, lived in Zugdidi till October, and then was going to Moscow again.

That was when strange things started to happen that finally resulted in the criminal case and sentencing. They started in the ill-fated October, soon after the August war that crowned Russia’s long aspiration for the seizure of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

After a checkup at the airport, Vladimer was stopped by head of the airport border service, Goletiani, who took away his both passports and said he was instructed to do so ‘in his computer’. Soon Vladimer was invited to a room where two nameless ‘computer men’ initiated a strange conservation.

They wanted him to confess he was a Russian agent. Vakhania didn’t. They proposed working for the Georgian intelligence service. Vakhania wouldn’t. No confession, no recruiting. Then the strange ‘couple’ told him to go back and wait for ‘a decision’! Whose decision and about what? They didn’t tell nor gave back his passports.

Already when in the administrative court that considered Vakhania’s complaint for arbitrary actions of Mr. Goletiani, the rather high-ranking man from the airport border service told the court that he obeyed only computer instructions and that he did not care who put the instructions there, as that was none of his business. ‘Two men came. I don’t know who they were’, he said. ‘I gave them a room, and I have no idea what they talked to Vakhania about’.

An expressive and well-known style: shameless lies favorably heard by the court.

That was the plain begging of a story that ended with searching, a tommy gun and grenades found – of course! – under the mattress, arrest, trial, and sentencing for 4 years in prison.

Yet they needed a reason for the searching. Well, you need one, you get one: a journalist from the Samegrelos Khronika newspaper asked Vakhania to meet her for an interview that she audio-recorded. Some time later one of them, or maybe both, wanted to update the conversation, so the journalist gave Vakhania the tape and her additional questions. Vladimer took the tape from Zugdigi to Tbilisi, and forgot it there on his way back.

Luckily enough for the investigation, there is Article 154, “Prevention of Journalist Activity’, in the Georgian Criminal Code. The tape that Vladimer took to Tbilisi turned out to be the very reason for initiating a case under this Article.

Let us track back the initial stages of the case: by the way, the time is recorded in official documents: At 5 p.m., March 11 2009, lieutenant T. Toria, an investigating detective of the police, heard on radio (!) that Vladimer Vakhania ‘oppressed journalists from Samagrelos Khronika’ to get his interview tape’. T. Toria applied to head of the Zugdigi Police Department Major G. Ninua ‘for further action’.

The first ‘witness’ was questioned at 6 p.m., March 11, just an hour after the detective heard the news on the radio, and the criminal case was initiated some time in between. That was case no. ¹044090189, ‘for the crime of illegally preventing a journalist from professional activity’. There was also an order of a Zugdigi district prosecutor, M. Jabua, who foresaw ‘a very large scope of investigative actions required’ and appointed people to carry them out.

All that happened within the hour from 5 to 6 p.m. They knew who to question, they sent out the writs, they questioned six witnesses by 10 PM, and the last, the seventh one, at 10 a.m. March 12. This is what we call a good work, and no gaping!

Three days after a big group of investigators, policemen and anti-terrorist squad searched Vakhania’s house with the only official purpose of finding the notorious tape. Yet the tape was in Tbilisi, and Vakhania said he could go and bring it. But nobody went to bring the tape, and later on it was not even entered in the case file.

(To be continued in tomorrow's issue)