(TSKHINVALI, South Ossetia)—The Russian-backed secessionist leadership in Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia released a Georgian citizen after he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for illegally crossing the de facto border and engaging in acts of terrorism.
S. Ossetia’s Rebel Leadership Releases Georgian Citizen Sentenced to 20 Years
By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Tuesday, November 28
Rebel authorities named the individual who was released as Giorgi Giunashvili. South Ossetia’s security services – still known by their Soviet acronym, the KGB – illegally apprehended and arrested Giunashvili in June 2016.
The rebel authorities in South Ossetia’s capital Tskhinvali claim they exchanged Giunashvili for an Abkhaz detainee who was serving sentence in a Georgian prison.
South Ossetia’s leader, Anatoly Bibilov, told the state-run local media that the decision was a goodwill gesture to Abkhazia, Georgia’s other breakaway region located on the Black Sea.
“In 2016,Abkhazia’s leaders helped return our citizens who were serving prison terms in Georgia. Now Abkhazia is requesting ourhelp in getting one of theirpeople out of a Georgian prison,” said Bibilov said.
Giunashvili was handed to Abkhaz representative Zurab Lakerbaia who later handed him over to Georgian authorities.
Georgia’s Reconciliation Minister Ketevan Tsikhelashvili said Giunashvili’s release was not part of a prisoner swap.
“It was not an exchange; he (Giunashvili) was released from prison. The Abkhaz side played a very positive role as an intermediary,” Tsikhelashvili stated.
The last prisoner exchange between Tbilisi and Tskhinvali took place in March 2016.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia have operated outside of Tbilisi’s control since the early 1990s. With Moscow’s military and financial support, the two regions broke away from the rest of the country after routing Georgian troops in two vicious wars between 1991-1993.
In the wake of the August 2008 Russian-Georgian War, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Nauru joined their close ally Moscow in recognizing the regions as independent republics.
Russia continues to maintain a massive military presence in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, with tens of thousands of troops stationed in each region as part of an occupation force that controls one quarter of Georgia’s internationally recognized territory.