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Georgia's political prisoners freed: but at what cost?

By Ernest Petrosyan
Tuesday, May 19
Georgia’s somewhat underdeveloped democracy is currently incapable of thriving without the pesticides of its western partners. The international community, inter alia, US lawmakers and a number of prominent European politicians have urged Georgian authorities to stand by their promise, envisaged by a foreign-brokered deal on election reforms between the ruling party and the opposition to release political prisoners, which, according to Georgian Dream leaders, are non-existent in Georgia.

During such a standoff, the ruling party had no political jurisdiction to resist international pressure amid the pandemic and the ever-increasing need for financial aid. As a result, they had to involve the President of Georgia, Salome Zurabishvili, making her the obvious scapegoat of the ruling party’s political imprudence.

Unsurprisingly, Salome Zurabishvili “pardoned” former Tbilisi mayor Gigi Ugulava and ex defense minister Irakli Okruashvili in order to “find a way out of a difficult situation, relieving tension, maintaining stability and saving the country’s international image,” stated Zourabichvili while reiterating the absolute absence of political prisoners in Georgia.

While political prisoners are ‘non-existent’ and courts are politically ‘unbiased,’ the Georgian Dream leadership decided to save face and limit its mercy in relation to the third political prisoner, Giorgi Rurua, the pro-opposition Mtavari Arkhi TV’s shareholder. Tbilisi City Court decided to leave Rurua in custody as the judge rejected the defense motion to change the measure of restraint.

While the political stalemate between the ruling party and the opposition seems to have been resolved by diplomatic mediators behind the scenes, parliament is yet to enact the electoral reform bill. Specious political steps made by Georgian Dream should not cloud the minds of Georgia’s foreign partners in the light of upcoming parliamentary elections. Even insignificant abuse of administrative power and violation of pre-election processes, as well as conducting free and fair elections, can have a prominent impact on the future, namely in the direction of a coalitional parliament. Hence, the international community, namely US and EU officials, should maintain political pressure to ensure fair elections and an objective outcome.