Probe into Kerzaia Case Suspended, Due to ‘Absence of Crime Signs’

Georgian Prosecutor General’s Office announced on August 23 that “the investigation was suspended due to the absence of crime” into the death of Ia Kerzaia, the principal of Public School N6 in Zugdidi, who was reportedly pressured to join the campaign of ruling party-endorsed candidate Salome Zurabishvili in last year’s presidential polls.

According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, probe into Kerzaia’s case was launched on February 11, 2019 for “the possible abuse of power by certain employees of the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sport of Georgia” following Kerzaia’s son, Bachana Shengelia’s appeal.

Two inspectors from the Ministry of Education carried out an inspection in the Public School N6 in Zugdidi in November 2018, between the first and the second rounds of Presidential elections. Kerzaia’s family claimed the inspection was approved after the school principal refused to cooperate with the authorities and join the campaign of Salome Zurabishvili.

The inspectors released their conclusion two weeks later, recommending the school’s governing board to dismiss the principal. Kerzaia was hospitalized with a stroke on December 2, and died couple of days later. The family claims her health condition worsened as a result of pressure.

The International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) a Tbilisi-based election watchdog, said the circumstances surrounding the death of Ia Kerzaia raised doubts that the inspection “was selective and discriminatory on political grounds.”

The Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA), a Tbilisi-based rights watchdog, also said that preliminary examination of public school inspections in 2018, including the Public School N6, raised doubts that the inspection mechanism was used for voter intimidation.

The Prosecutor General’s Office said it “examined all the circumstances related to the lawfulness of the receipt/application, registration, inspection and its results, and the necessity of examining which the applicant indicated himself,” however, the investigation “did not prove” that Kerzaia was ill-treated during an inspection at Zugdidi Public School.

It also said that “no link was found” between the death of Kerzaia and the inspection and that neither did the investigation confirm any “political persecution and/or humiliating treatment” against her, nor that the school inspection “was driven by political motives.” Therefore, “the investigation was terminated on the ground of lack of action under criminal law.”

In response to prosecution’s decision, Bachana Shengelia wrote on Facebook that “the case was driven to a wrong direction from the very beginning,” and the main case materials – surveillance video recordings – were “deliberately taken out in delay” and were finally “destroyed.” “[They] sent wrong materials for forensic examination, did not interrogate key witnesses, did not assign calligraphic expertise, and did not follow a single procedural or investigative actions,” Shengelia said.

Promising that he will continue the fight, Shengelia said he will spare no efforts to ensure that “the murderers and falsifiers” will stand accountable even at the cost of his life. “The fight will continue until the end, when all the offenders are punished,” he concluded.

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