With 88 votes for and 2 against, the Parliament of Georgia today stripped United National Movement (UNM) party’s Nika Melia of his parliamentary immunity, paving the way for the possible imprisonment of the largest opposition party’s Chairperson.
All attending MPs from the ruling Georgian Dream party voted in favor of lifting Melia’s immunity, as protestors and civic activists rallied outside the Parliament building in support of the UNM Chair.
The two Citizens party MPs, Aleko Elisashvili and Levan Ioseliani, were the only two lawmakers to vote against, while the four European Socialists MPs abstained from participating. Other major opposition party lawmakers did not attend the session, as they are still boycotting the legislature over “rigged elections.”
The prosecution addressed the Parliament on February 12 to greenlight the UNM Chairman’s detention, as Melia, facing charges on June 20-21 of 2019 unrest case, refused to pay increased bail of GEL 40,000 (USD 12,140), imposed on him after he publicly removed a monitoring bracelet during an opposition rally in November. Melia decried the increased bail as “political persecution.”
With Melia’s parliamentary immunity lifted, it will be up to the Tbilisi City Court to deliver a ruling on the prosecution’s motion for replacing the UNM Chairman’s bail with pretrial detention.
Public Defender, Local Watchdog Decry Case Against Melia
Preceding today’s plenary session, the Public Defender of Georgia urged the Parliament to refrain from consenting to Melia’s imprisonment and called on the Prosecutor’s Office to review the necessity of its request.
The Ombudsperson said arresting an opposition party chairperson, without “appropriate substantiation,” “will deal a major blow to the Georgian judiciary and make it similar to the practice in non-democratic countries.”
Transparency International (TI) Georgia, a key local civil society organization, warned that “selective persecution against the largest opposition party’s Chairman will cause great damage to the quality of democracy in the country and lead to the further polarization of the political environment.”