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Pardon Commission members reshuffled

By Salome Modebadze
Wednesday, January 30
The Pardon Commission has new membership. Changes carried out by President Mikheil Saakashvili to the Order on Pardoning adopted on July 19, 2004 were published in the Georgian Legislative Herald (sakartvelos sakanonmdeblo matsne).

The initial text about the eligibility for the pardon commission membership reads: the members of commission defined upon the president’s order include parliament members, the public defender and other public figures. From January 28, immediately after publication of the above mentioned changes, only the public defender and other members will receive commission membership.

Although the new order does not explain who are exactly meant under the word “other members,” the sudden changes to the legislative document caused controversy within Georgian society.

According to Public Defender Ucha Nanuashvili, parity should be ensured in the commission. Nanuashvili said on Tuesday that the equal representation of public and political figures would ensure maximal control over studying the cases of the inmates.

Georgian Dream member Gia Tsagareishvili, who heads the Parliamentary Environmental Protection and Natural Resources Committee, thinks that Saakashvili wants to engage his friends and relatives in the activities of the pardoning commission instead of parliament or government members.

The rule of pardoning envisages a list of documents and preconditions for taking the particular inmate’s case into consideration including the severity of the crime, terms of detention, health conditions, conduct during imprisonment and other circumstances. Tsagareishvili said the process of pardoning inmates has often been followed with questions. According to the Georgian Dream MP, Saakashvili used to release inmates charged with severe crimes like murder and robbery.

Elene Tevdoradze remained the head of commission; although she could not specify the exact reasons for Saakashvili’s decision to exclude MPs from commission membership Tevdoradze recollected how hard it was to gather the necessary quorum for achieving the final decision on the list of the inmates to be pardoned because many of the MPs did not attend the sessions. “I provided the president with this information in written form several times and maybe it became the reason for his decision,” Tevdoradze said, explaining that the next commission meeting with the new members will be held in the near future.

The president’s advisers: Nino Kalandadze, Van Baybyrt and Mubarys Karayev; Adviser of the head of Saakashvili’s administration, Giorgi Godabrelidze; Acting head of the administration’s parliamentary relations and legislative service, Kakha Anjapharidze; the president’s parliamentary secretary, Dimitri Dzagnidze; Professor of Philology at Ilia State University, Zurab Kiknadze; Chief Editor of 24 Hour (24 Saati) newspaper, Mamuka Pachuashvili; writer Givi Shahnazar; playwright Lasha Bughadze; and metropolitan Theodore will be the members of reshuffled pardoning commission, while the previous commission consisted of seven members.

Elene Tevdoradze did not expect to include the patriarchate representative in the commission membership, as it was not the case before. However, the head of commission thinks that instead of sending their separate list of inmates straight to the president, the patriarchate will now send the list to the commission.

Another change carried out in the document refers to the terms of filling out applications for the commission. According to the Rule on Pardoning, it is the president’s prerogative to make the verdict about the final list prepared by the commission and supported by the majority of its members, but if the commission rejects the inmate’s application for consideration it will be possible to re-apply in three months instead of six months as was the rule since 2004.

The pardon commission has discussed the issues of thousands of inmates during the past years. Detainees considered on the commission’s list are being released, halved of sentences or their charges were lessened. Lists are then sent to the president, who decides on each case and signs the relevant document.

Minister of Justice Thea Tsulukiani welcomed the changes to the pardon commission hoping that its activities would become more transparent and depoliticized. However, Tsulukiani said the process should not depend either on the president or prosecutor. “I hope the president will maintain neutrality in pardoning inmates and not pardon only those whom he wants, but people who deserve it,” said the minister.