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Public Defender Raises Alarms As Saakashvili Barred Three Times from Court Attendance

The Public Defender’s Office has called on the Special Penitentiary Service to transfer jailed former President Mikheil Saakashvili to his hearings and urged the court to give the accused the opportunity to partake and protect his rights at trials.

“Restricting the third president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, from participating in his own court hearings, grossly violates the right to a fair trial protected by the Constitution and the European Convention [of Human Rights],” the Public Defender asserted today.

The statement came after the Penitentiary refused — for the third time in a week — to transfer Saakashvili to his court hearing. Today’s first proceedings before court looked into Saakashvili’s illegal state border crossing on the night of September 28/29. Previously, he was denied to attend November 14 and 10 trials into the misappropriation of public funds and exceeding official authority, respectively.

The Penitentiary had cited two reasons for the repeated refusal of the transfer, including concerns over Saakashvili’s health after his weeks-long hunger strike and security risks instigated by ex-President’s supporters seeking to obstruct Saakashvili’s convoy – allegations initially voiced and currently investigated by the State Security Service.

The Public Defender has lambasted the Court’s decision to yield to the Penitentiary’s position without any further critical deliberation. “At the moment there is no proper argument why Mikheil Saakashvili should be restricted from appearing in court in person.”

Rebuking the argument about the state of health, the Public Defender warned that it could deprive all hunger-striking prisoners of the opportunity to participate in their own judicial proceedings and exercise their right to a fair trial.

With regards to the security risks, the Public Defender maintained that the criminal procedure law does not provide references for exceptions on such cases. It also said the State Security Service probe, cited by the Penitentiary, can last up to ten years, and that the Penitentiary cannot cite the ongoing investigation over conspiracy as a reason.

The penitentiary’s possible “illegal, arbitrary and permanent” reference to the SSG investigation probe would mean “a de facto annulment of the right to protection of the accused,” the Public Defender said.

Previously, on November 10 and 14, the former president was not allowed to join the trials online. Nevertheless, he was given permission to appear remotely at today’s hearing. Saakashvili reportedly refused to join the session. 

The illegal border crossing charges pertain to Saakashvili entering Georgia on the night of September 29, after traveling from Ukraine’s Chernomorsk port to Poti port in Georgia. Alongside Saakashvili, four other people were detained and charged as accomplices. During today’s first proceedings before court, The Tbilisi City Court did not dwell on the substantive part of the case since ex-President Saakashvili is already in detention. It decided on the date of the next trial.

After the hearing, Saakashvili’s lawyer Beka Basilaia lambasted judge Davit Kurtanidze for asking the Penitentiary to either transfer Saakashvili to courtroom or ensure his online access to the trial, even before knowing the Penitentiary’s and the defense side’s position over the transfer. Basilaia said in case of Saakashvili’s online attendance, the judge could place the screen directly in front of him, prevent Saakashvili’s live-stream from the public eyes, and manipulate the ex-President’s address from prison hospital.

Former Georgian President Saakashvili was arrested on October 1, on the eve of local elections, and he has been on a hunger strike since.

Read more on the background, including Saakashvili’s charges and sentences below:

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

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