President Zurabishvili Pardons Gigi Ugulava, Irakli Okruashvili

On May 15, Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili announced that she has pardoned two inmates – former Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava and former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili.

In a televised address to the nation, the President sought to explain the rationale behind pardoning, suggesting that her decision may be “hard to comprehend” and “perhaps unforgivable” for many.

President Zurabishvili’s decision comes few days after renewed March 8 electoral reform deal controversy. Opposition vowed not to back constitutional amendments for electoral reform as agreed in foreign-mediated March 8 Agreement, unless “the second component” of the deal – “the release of political prisoners” (Ugulava, Okruashvili and Giorgi Rurua) were fulfilled. Ruling Georgian Dream party said it had not – in any form – committed itself to releasing “political prisoners.”

Zurabishvili insisted that she did not pardon two inmates for them being “political prisoners” and wrongfully convicted by Georgian courts.

“I am not pardoning political prisoners, and I assume full responsibility for stating that there are no political prisoners in Georgia,” Zurabishvili said.

The President warned that the country was standing on the brink of a of “political crisis” prompted by the controversy around the March 8 agreement.

President Zurabishvili said she could not “bear” risk of the country being thrown into a turmoil and renewed polarization of the society.

She warned against failing to implement “internationally-recognized” agreement, as it would put at stake “stable, democratic, and European future” of the state.

The President highlighted that her action was based solely upon “national interests,” and was directed to salvage the agreement.

Zurabishvili laid the blame on the opposition for trying to “exploit the situation” by “fomenting destabilization.” She further mentioned that the ruling Georgian Dream party did not have the leverage to mitigate the crisis.

Against this backdrop, the President asserted that it was her duty to “resolve the controversy, maintain stability,” and save Georgia’s “international standing.”

Concluding her remarks, Zurabishvili stressed she was assuming “the burden of responsibility” to release the two “odious figures” [referring to Okruashvili and Ugulava], thus “freeing the country from its past, which hampered it from progressing and jeopardized its future.”

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