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CSOs: Ugulava’s Imprisonment Signals A Continuation of Political Persecution

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On February 11, twelve civil society organizations (CSOs), including Transparency International Georgia, International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, and Open Society Georgia Foundation, released a joint statement, noting that the yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling to sentence former Tbilisi Mayor and opposition European Georgia leader Gigi Ugulava is “the continuation of political persecution by the authorities against their opponents.”

On February 10, a three-member panel of the Supreme Court found Ugulava guilty of misspending GEL 48 million (USD 17 million) of public money from Tbilisi Development Fund, while serving as the mayor of the capital city, and sentenced him to three years and two months in jail. Two of the judicial panel members Shalva Tadumadze (former Prosecutor General) and Merab Gabinashvili – who were recently appointed for lifetime tenure – supported the ruling, while Giorgi Shavliashvili, dissented.

According to the CSOs, considering the fact that the investigation against Ugulava had started seven years ago, and concurrently some other opposition leaders – Irakli Okruashvili, Nika Melia, and Mamuka Khazaradze – have also been persecuted, “there is a reasonable doubt that the authorities are using criminal prosecution as a lever of influence against their opponents.”

It is noteworthy that two of the Supreme Court judges, who have delivered the final verdict, have recently been selected by the authorities through obscure process. One of them is the former lawyer of the country’s informal ruler, Bidzina Ivanishvili, the parliamentary secretary of the Government of Georgia and Prosecutor General Shalva Tadumadze. Naturally, his participation [in the process] is problematic and causes mistrust to the [court] ruling,” the CSOs stated.

They further noted that “the time-consuming” investigation and trial against opposition party representatives “have become widespread.” “The authorities seem to be effectively using this method to exert indirect pressure on their opponents,” the CSOs said, adding that sentencing Ugulava might be “a message to other opposition leaders.”

CSOs stated that the Supreme Court ruling in Ugulava’s case “confirms the influence of the authorities over the judiciary and the tendencies of selective justice.” They raised concerns about “the political bias of the prosecutor’s office and judiciary, which endangers the country’s democratic development, decreases public trust into the state institutions and the supremacy of law, and negatively affects the election environment.”

Therefore, the CSOs call on the Government of Georgia, the ruling Georgian Dream party and its leader Bidzina Ivanishvili to stop using “selective justice” against their opponents and people with different views; contribute to the solution of the political crisis in a constructive manner, as well as to set public and state interests as their priorities “instead of their party interests.”

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)

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