During today’s substantive hearing, the Tbilisi City Court remanded United National Movement (UNM) Chairman Nika Melia, facing charges for the June 20-21, 2019, anti-occupation unrest case, in custody. The next hearing on the case was scheduled for April 29.
At the hearing, Judge Nino Chakhnashvili denied the defendant’s motion to question Ivane Gulashvili, allegedly a former intelligence officer who claimed he was tasked to retrieve “seven hard disk drives” from the parliamentary surveillance video system with footage from the night of anti-occupation unrest.
Judge Chakhnashvili also denied the motion to question Georgian Dream (GD) Chairman Irakli Kobakhidze and add his recent interview as evidence to the case.
In the Rustavi 2 TV interview, MP Kobakhidze said former PM Giorgi Gakharia supported detaining the UNM Chair but changed his mind at 17:00 on the day of Melia’s initial Court hearing. The opposition claimed GD officials had prior knowledge of the Court’s decision, as it was only announced later at around 22:20.
Today’s hearing was also marred by controversy, as after the decision, Judge Chakhnashvili dismissed Melia from the courtroom for insulting her by calling her “Chinchaladze’s slave.” Mikheil Chinchaladze is the Chairman of the Tbilisi Court of Appeals, who the opposition claim is at the helm of the influential group of judges called “the clan.”
GD, UNM React
MP Giorgi Amilakhvari of the ruling GD party noted that “the Court made an independent decision today.” He reiterated the Prosecutor’s Office’s statement, which said that it would appeal to the Court to replace the pretrial detention of Nika Melia if he agrees to post bail. Moreover, regarding chairman Kobakhidze’s interview, MP Amilakhvari said the ruling party leadership was discussing “possible” developments, without definitively knowing that the Court would rule to detain Melia.
UNM leader Gia Baramidze said the Court voiced the political decision of GD founder Bidzina Ivanishvili, as it did when it decided to replace Melia’s increased bail with pretrial detention. He rebuffed the claim that Melia would be released if he posted bail, noting that the “bail was scrapped as a preventive measure” when the UNM Chair was detained.
Police detained Melia in the controversial raid on UNM headquarters on February 23, only a few hours into Irakli Garibashvili’s election as Prime Minister. The arrest came after Melia, facing charges for heading mass violence during the protest on the night of June 20-21, 2019, refused to post an increased bail of GEL 40,000 (USD 11,680).
The bail for Melia was increased after he publicly removed an electronic monitoring bracelet during a rally on November 1 while protesting “fraudulent” parliamentary elections outside the Parliament building. The UNM leader had already posted the initial amount of GEL 30,000 (USD 8,760) imposed by the Court for the June 20-21 unrest case.
Melia’s arrest was also preceded by the February 18 resignation of previous Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia, who cited disagreements with his party colleagues on the matter and refused to greenlight the detention.
Noteworthy that Nika Melia’s release was among the principal demands of the opposition during the twice-failed EU-mediated dialogue to end Georgia’s political crisis, ongoing since opposition parties decided to boycott the parliament over alleged rigging of the October 31 parliamentary polls.