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International community watches Ugulava’s case closely

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Tuesday, December 24
"We share the concerns of civil society about the suspension of an elected official and are following these developments closely. We renew our call on the authorities to scrupulously and transparently observe due process and the rule of law," U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Richard Norland stated on December 23.

The ambassador made a statement concerning Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava’s case. According to the decision made by the Tbilisi City Court two days ago, Ugulava was released on 50,000 GEL bail and was suspended from office. Ugulava is accused in misspending millions of GEL. Ugulava claimed that the court suspended his power because of government pressure on the judge.

The ambassador’s statement was preceded by a joint statement made by the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, Transparency International Georgia, Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center, Georgian Democracy Initiative and the Georgian Bar Association.

The organizations called on the authorities to immediately probe into allegations that pressure was exerted on the Tbilisi City Court judge while deciding in favor of the prosecution’s motion to suspend Ugulava from office.

The organizations stress that for years there have been numerous attempts of pressuring the judiciary by law enforcement agencies, which has affected the quality and development trends of the justice system.

“There has been improvement in this regard after the October, 2012 parliamentary election, but it is obvious that the situation is fragile and not sustainable. Any kind of attempt to interfere into the judiciary is especially dangerous in such a situation. For that reason, it is of critical importance to study immediately the facts that might indicate a possible infringement on judiciary independence,” the statement reads.

Ugulava said he will continue the legal battle to achieve his reinstatement, and if successful, he will himself step-down in order to demonstrate that he fights not for the office, but for the annulment of a “harmful precedent” of suspending from office a directly elected mayor.

The UNM calls the process political pursuit. The UNM demands the setting up of an investigation commission to probe into the investigation and the court trials against Gigi Ugulava. They also call for an investigation commission, which will monitor the trials and investigation into UNM Secretary General Vano Merabishvili.

The third request of the UNM is to hold a session of the human rights committee of the parliament, where these issues will be discussed. The UNM members urge the chief prosecutor to attend the discussion of the two controversial cases at the parliament; they also summon public defender Ucha Nanuashvili to parliament.

The court has not violated law by taking a ruling on suspending Ugulava - the representatives of the government have said. Secretary of the National Security Council Irine Imerlishvili says the court had a right to suspend the mayor’s authority without a verbal discussion of the case, as the court is independent in Georgia today.

“When the court makes decisions desirable for our opponents, they say that the court is independent, but when the rulings are undesirable for them, they start to talk about pressure on the judiciary,” Imerlishvili says. Fellow member of the coalition Zurab Abashidze also rules out any pressure on the court system. He stresses that the majority does not intend to set up the investigation commission in parliament, as the action would be involvement in the court’s activities.

Chair of Tbilisi City Court Mamuka Akhvlediani denied pressure from the government on the judge.

Head of the Elections and Political Technologies Research Centre, Kakha Kakhishvili, stated that the judge had a legal right to make a decision without verbal discussion of Ugulava’s case.

“However, the case is of a high public interest and it would be more acceptable for the judge to make the decision after meeting with the sides, and not at midnight. However, this is the legislation created under the UNM. The civil sector had opposed such changes during the UNM leadership. However, they did not listen to us…now, they are protesting the laws, which were created by themselves,” Kakhishvili said.