On April 13, the Tbilisi City Court sentenced Georgia’s former defense minister Irakli Okruashvili to five years in jail for engaging in mass violence during the unrests on the night of 20-21 June, 2019.
Okruashvili was charged with “organizing, directing and engaging in” a mass violence incident, although the court cleared him of the charge of “directing” the wrongdoing.
The Tbilisi City Court announced that the list of offenses included “violence, ravage, property damage, resisting and assaulting [law enforcement] officials by means of firearms.”
Three police officers were arrested on charges of exceeding official powers during dispersal of the June 20-21 rally. All of them were released on bail at different times.
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Irakli Okruashvili is one of the alleged political prisoners, along with Gigi Ugulava and Giorgi Rurua, whose release the opposition has demanded. That list of “political prisoners” also included Besik Tamliani, who had been released on bail on March 23.
The opposition maintained that release of “political prisoners” had been one of the preconditions for cutting March 8 deal over the electoral reform by the ruling Georgian Dream and opposition parties.
On March 9, the opposition parties issued a joint statement calling on the Georgian President and all state institutions to release from custody the foregone prisoners “by using legitimate tools at their disposal.”
Prosecutor Vazha Todua said that the ruling will be challenged in the court of upper instance.
Okruashvili’s imprisonment has triggered mixed political assessments. Irakli Kobakhidze, Georgian Dream’s Executive Secretary, said that “there was an obvious attempt of bursting into the Parliament [on June 20, 2019] that is a very grave offense and there are no question marks here.”
The opposition politicians disagree with the court decision. Grigol Vashadze of the United National Movement said that Georgian Dream has seized upon the situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic and is now trying to violate the agreement between the ruling party and the opposition. “The pandemic will be over and all political prisoners should be released,” noted Vashadze.
MP Elene Khoshtaria of European Georgia also slammed the court ruling as “a political decision.” She laid full responsibility for the June 20 “violence” on the government, saying that “police officers, as well as those officials who issued [dispersal] orders should be held accountable.”
“It is crucial to release political prisoners” in order to normalize political processes, added MP Khoshtaria.
Guram Chalagashvili, Okruashvili’s teammate, said that Okruashvili was imprisoned solely because of participating in the June 20 rally “along with other 40,000 people.”
“I am absolutely sure that as soon as the coronavirus epidemic is over, the government will have to step back,” noted Chalagashvili.
U.S. Embassy Statement
On April 14, U.S. Embassy released a statement, highlighting that “the timing and circumstances of Irakli Okruashvili’s arrest raised concerns about political interference and the selective use of justice.”
“The case casts a shadow over the impartial application of justice – a concern the March 8 Joint Statement was intended to dispel,” noted U.S. Embassy.
“We urge all signatories to uphold the letter and spirit of the March 8 agreement,” concluded the statement.