Georgia mustn't use justice system to settle scores: Europe rights body

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 20, 2015 9:12 AM

By Margarita Antidze

TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgian authorities should not use the justice system to settle political scores with the former government of Mikheil Saakashvili, a European rights body said on Friday.

Dozens of former officials, including the prime, defense and interior ministers, have been arrested on charges including abuse of power and corruption since ex-president Saakashvili's party lost an election in October 2012.

"The demonization of political competitors ... is not healthy for a democracy, and the power to detain suspected criminals must not be used, or appear to be used, to settle political scores," said Pedro Agramunt, rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), after visit to Georgia.

"I could not help getting the impression that this (pre-trial detention) is part of a bitter campaign by the current authorities against their predecessors," he said in a statement on Friday.

On Wednesday, a Tbilisi court declined a bail request for the city's former mayor Gigi Ugulava, who has been in pre-trial detention on charges of money-laundering for almost eight months. The maximum length of such detention in Georgia is nine months.

PACE is the parliamentary arm of the 47-nation Council of Europe, which promotes democracy and human rights across the continent.

Saakashvili, wanted in Georgia on abuse of authority and other charges, currently lives in Ukraine, where he holds a post as presidential adviser. He left Georgia in November 2013 after the end of his second presidential term.

Western countries have previously expressed concern that the new government, first formed under the premiership of Saakashvili's political rival, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, has used selective justice and political persecution against opponents.

Allies of Saakashvili, ousted at the polls by the Georgian Dream, say the arrest of former leaders is politically motivated.

Leaders of the coalition, who also have ambitions to develop closer links with Western Europe and join the transatlantic NATO military alliance, deny the prosecutions are political and say defendants are granted fair trials.

PACE passed a resolution last year calling for fair trials for former officials in the South Caucasus country of 4.5 million people, crossed by pipelines that carry Caspian oil and gas to Europe.

Ukraine has refused Georgian requests to extradite Saakashvili.

(editing by John Stonestreet)