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Leading NGO says ECtHR didn’t say ex-official’s detention had political grounds

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Friday, June 17
A leading Non-Government Organisation (NGO), the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), says the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) did not write that Georgia’s ex-top official Ivane Merabishvili was a political prisoner.

The head of the GYLA, Ana Natsvlishvili, gave an interview to Georgia’s online media Netgazeti released on June 14 where she explained the judgment of the ECtHR over Georgia’s former Prime and Interior Minister Merabishvili.

Merabishvili, who was detained in May 2013 after the current ruling Georgian Dream (GD) coalition defeated the previous leading power United National Movement (UNM) in the 2012 parliamentary race, claimed his pre-trial detention had not been governed by clear legal rules.

Merabishvili also claimed his pre-trial detention served the purpose of excluding him from being involved in the country’s political life.

In response, the ECtHR ruled that the pre-trial detention was “lawful and based on grounded reasons”.

However, the ECtHR said that one of the decisions of Kutaisi City Court that concerned Merabishvili’s replacement of pre-trial detention with bail was a violation of the law, as the judge orally announced the decision in a very short period of time.

The Court also said that Merabishvili’s removal of prison for investigative purposes at night was also a violation and must be investigated.

The ECtHR added that the Government of Georgia must pay Merabishvili ˆ4,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage and ˆ8,000 for costs and expenses.

After the release of the verdict, Georgia’s Minister of Justice stated the Government “was happy” with the judgment, as the ECtHR confirmed the pre-trial detention was fair. The Minister said that Merabishvili's removal from prison for interrogation would be investigated more closely and the Government would appeal the decision about providing him with compensation.

Meanwhile, the lawyers of Merabishvili and the UNM held meetings with the media, and claimed that “Merabishvili is a political prisoner” and must be released soon as his remaining in prison would damage Georgia’s image.

However, the head of the GYLA, Ana Natsvlishvili, stated, “I couldn’t see where the verdict says the arrest was politically motivated.”

She also explained that Merabishvili could not be released from prison, as the verdict concerned only the pre-trial detention and now Merabishvili has already been sentenced.

Natsvlishvili then confirmed that the ECtHR stressed that the pre-trial detention was legal and mentioned the procedural violations of the Court; she believes the Merabishvili's sentence is far harsh than any which would be given to an ordinary citizen.

Merabishvili was detained in May 2013 and was then charged with faking documents, misspending budgetary funds and vote-buying. He was also charged with exceeding his official power in connection with three different notorious criminal cases. He denied all charges, saying they were politically motivated.

In the following months, in several separate trials the ex-official was found guilty and was sentenced to jail. In February 2014, Kutaisi City Court found Merabishvili guilty of the charge of exceeding his official power and sentenced him to four years and six months in prison.

Merabishvili claimed his pre-trial detention had not been governed by clear legal rules and sentencing him had been unreasonable.

The current Government dismissed all previous and current speculations over the political grounds of the arrest and highlighted that everyone is equal before the law.