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Court sends UNM opposition member to prison

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Wednesday, November 8
Tbilisi City Court has sent a former official of the Interior Ministry under the United National Movement (UNM) government, Giorgi Oniani, to prison for four years and six months.

The court found him guilty of all four charges referring exceeding official powers, the falsification of evidence, political persecution and acts of illegal detention.

The Prosecutor’s Office reported that in 2011, when Oniani served as the deputy head of the Gldani-Nadzaladevi police station in Tbilisi, he illegally detained "Dao–Print" Manager David Shatirishvili for making T-shirts with the Georgian Dream logo, prior to the 2012 parliamentary elections when the Georgian Dream party ended the nine-year rule of the UNM.

The Prosecutor’s Office stated that Oniani tasked his employees to plant drugs on Shatirishvili to charge him for drug-related crimes.

The same year, Oniani also detained DJ Levan Mdinaradze, also known as DJ Rambo, for distributing Georgian Dream T-shirts, the Prosecutor’s Office stated.

“I have been waiting for this verdict for three years, every day. I even lost hope,” Mdinaradze said about the arrest.

“Oniani was threatening me in case if I did not cooperate with the UNM. I was sentenced to six years then. Now justice has been restored,” Mdinaradze added.

Oniani's lawyer Malkhaz Velijanashvili said that the verdict delivered by Judge Khatuna Kharchilava is biased and is not based on evidence.

"If the Court had objectively considered all the evidence, it would have been impossible to bring this verdict. There were articles where there was no evidence at all and in some cases there were only the testimonies of police officers, who were granted some allowances in exchange for their false testimonies. I think that the verdict is absolutely illegal and the defense will appeal against it in the court of Appeal”, said the lawyer.

The Georgian Dream representatives stated that the court has made a fair decision, based on evidence.

The UNM claims Oniani is a political prisoner.

UNM member Nika Melia told the media that if Oniani had moved to the party - European Georgia (opposition party established after the 2016 parliamentary elections by former members of the UNM and several new faces) he would be free now.

“The government releases those from prison who are in their interests [allegedly referring to former Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava, one of the founders of the European Georgia] and arrests real opponents,” Melia said.

Ugulava stated that the detention of Oniani is "unfair" and "unsubstantiated".

“It is an absolutely ridiculous decision", Ugulava posted on the social network. “I know Goga and I know he will endure. I want to express solidarity to him and his family".

Ugulava also responded to the statement of Melia, called it “raving madness” and asked everyone not to pay much attention to it, as conflict in the opposition was in the interests of Ivaniashvili’s [Bidzina Ivanishvili, founder of the Georgian Dream] regime.

For its part, the European Georgia party condemned the arrest and stated they would fight for the release of the “political prisoner Oniani”.

"Ivanishvili continues to revenge political opponents. Oniani became their target this time,” Otar Kakhidze from the European Georgia party said.