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Tuesday, October 12
(Continued fronm yesterday's issue)


(How they do it in Georgia)

In Russia, one frequently searches for one thing, and finds another. In Georgia, it also happens: they found a gun and a grenade under the mattress. There was nobody witnessing that, only the disguised anti-terrorist men, because all the civilians, including the host (there were 5 or 6 of them as Vakhania had some people visiting) were made lie on the floor! This is something really ‘Georgian’ or ‘Oriental’, as we know nobody was doing so in the USSR in Brezhnev’s times. Though, some time later they let the people stand up, and even put Vakhania in an armchair, handcuffed.

Witnesses appeared in the house an hour after the search started, and did not attend at the moment when the arms were found. By the way, the witnesses as well as Vakhania refused signing the search records. After persuading and intimidation on the next day, one of the witnesses, M. Makatsaria signed the records with a special note that he was absent when the arms were found. But it turned out later that the records missed that note yet had all the signatures that the witnesses did not recognize. We will not now discuss details of the records. Enough to say that opinion reports of professional graphology experts who were invited by the defense and questioned the authenticity of the signatures were never included in the case file either by the first-instance court or by the court of appeal. None of the courts ever summoned and questioned the experts.

Yet the other – tough – witness, D. Chikovani, was arrested when he was leaving the courtroom, kept in the pretrial facility, tried, and sentenced for perjury!

Dr. Vakhania was finally sentenced to two years in prison for storing arms and two more for threats to the freedom of expression. It is interesting that the official comments of the Georgian Supreme Court to Art. 145 of the Georgian Criminal Code suggest that the one preventing the professional journalist activity may be an official or a governmental body, but not a private individual.

The strange case has more details to consider, sufficient for a series of articles, yet their discussion seems really unnecessary now. The case is clear enough, simple as it is: for some unutterable reasons some unnamed institutions prevented a home-bound citizen from leaving Georgia, then gave him an exemplary penalty, and left him guessing what he was punished for. `

Indeed, imperfect intelligence services of today’s very imperfect states have to suspect citizens of having committed all possible sins – that’s the best the services can do. And if they have reasonable evidence, the court should thoroughly and captiously check the evidence, but not foolish dreams about a bomb under the pillow. And if there is nothing to show in court – well, gentlemen, relax and don’t disturb the citizen. This is how the intelligence service in a democratic state should behave, not only for the sake of securing the reputation of the state, but also because another behavior would be more dangerous than a hundred of James Bonds, as there have been many tragedies that started with forged evidence.

One can understand a lot from the attitude of the Georgian top officials to Vakhania’s case. At the end of December 2009, two of us, Kovalev and Cherny, had a brief conversation with President Saakashvili about the case. The President promised to look into the matter, expressed doubts about political motivations, and supposed somebody could do that to get a bribe. Contrary to law, the court of appeal postponed hearing of the case for several months. Some people visited Vladimer Vakhania in prison and suggested pleading guilty in order to leave Georgia. Vakhania refused. Judging from the court sentence that is now enforced, no corruption was found in the case.

In March 2010, we, Kovalev and Cherny, met Interior Minister V. Merabishvili, Deputy Foreign Minister G. Bokeria, and Board Chairman of the Liberty Institute L. Ramishvili. Certainly, Mr. Merabishvili categorically denied any involvement of intelligence services in Vakhania’s case or political motivations of the trial. But the conversation soon slipped from the field of justice into a strange field, a kind of an ‘intelligence farce’. The minister said that all the opposition people, namely G. Khaindrava and N. Burjanadze, were purchasing lots of arms; yet, ‘we are not afraid of them’, he said. The purpose of these plain statements is difficult to understand. Did he want to make an impression? Or to warn Ms. Burjanadze via us? Or to inform equivocally that even illegal purchase of arms would not always bring one in prison, depending on how it was viewed?

It is noteworthy that those contacts with the Georgian authorities unfortunately contrast with those we had in 1997. Then we, Kovalev, V. M. Gefter and A. V. Sokolov met all political prisoners in prison, studied their cases and discussed them with people from the prosecutor’s office and court. We met President E. Shevardnadze at least three times. He was concerned with public consequences of the political conflicts. The problem of political prisoners was discussed in view of the fact that shortly before Georgia had been almost on threshold of a civil war. Judiciary reprisal of those who lost in that situation could further inflame the national conflict rather than settle it. Today everyone can remember that then Georgia started to gradually but continually release political prisoners.

Today’s meetings with the Georgian authorities are very different. We think they are full of insincerity and petty pragmatism.

It seems that the August war 2008 plays against the Georgian political prisoners, together with dramatic SAspells of the Georgian leaders about universal values and the European civilization. This is an excellent occasion for eulogistic praises about the small yet proud country that despite perfidious enemies overcomes difficulties on the way to its ideals. Some of the praises are sincere yet superficial and naive, some are not quite honest, and others seemed to be profit-driven. The magnifying choir is effectively supported by the evil silliness of the Kremlin. Many state-mongers are happy to praise anyone only because Putin hates him. The undemanding, cowardly and pragmatic West that is politically correct with Russia is still happy to support Saakashvili just to spite Russia. This is the situation we have, so who would care about the prisoners based to the foot of the throne by the loyal court?

Yet a country suffering from aggression, pressure, and intrigues is not always fair to its own opposing citizens or others being in disfavor. History is full of examples of countries that are infringed by their neighbors yet are faulty in the attitude to own citizens. We suppose that Georgian leaders try to cash international sympathy in the struggle with their domestic political difficulties.

Let us get back to where we started. We have discussed one, but not the only one politically-motivated case. Using court for political purposes is an indisputable sign indicating a lack of democracy, yet not its irrevocable downfall. We still hope that the problem can be solved. Certainly, real politics try to avoid and even clash with public self-criticism. Yet changes in the domestic policy are not so rare, though public pressure (preferably also pressure of the international community) on the country’s authorities is a determining prerequisite for such a change.

We therefore pin hopes to an international conference on political prisoners to be held in the post-soviet space. Courts serving the political power are our common problem. Our Georgian colleagues proposed to hold such a conference in foreseeable future in Georgia. We support this idea and call the international community to join this initiative.

Sergei Kovalev, Aleksei Simonov, Ernst Cherny