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Europe’s Human Rights Court to Issue Verdict on Georgia’s Ex-Interior Minister

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Thursday, November 30
(STRASBOURG, France) --The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has upheld a previous ruling saying the outstanding charges against Georgia’s former Interior Minister Ivane Merabishvili were not politically motivated.

Merabishvili, who is currently being held in pre-trial detention in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi, filed a complaint against the country’s ruling Georgian Dream, accusing the party of falsifying evidence to be used against him and that he was being held as a political prisoner.

While the ECtHR rejected Merabishvili’s claims, the court did rule that Georgian authorities had illegally removed Merabishvili from his cell on December 14, 2013, in an attempt to force him into providing information about the mysterious death of former Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania in 2005 and the personal bank accounts of exiled ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili.

Zhvania died unexpectedly of carbon monoxide poisoning alongside close friend and confidant Raul Usupov, the governor of Georgia’s southern Kvemo Kartli region, while the two were alone in the latter’s Tbilisi flat.

The exact circumstance of their deaths have been shrouded in mystery for over a decade with leading figures who opposed Saakashvili claiming the former president had a hand in plotting Zhvania’s demise.

Merabishvili previously testified to the human rights court that then-Chief Prosecutor Otar Partskhaladze was present when Merabishvili was told his conditions in prison would worsen and his friends would be arrested if he failed to cooperate.

These Georgian Dream government has repeatedly denied Merabishvili’s allegations.

Georgia’s Justice Ministry originally welcomed the ECtHR’s initial verdict handed down in June, but criticized the court’s mention of the episode involving Partskhaladze.

The ECtHR ordered the Georgian government to pay Merabishvili ˆ4,000 in reparations for trauma suffered during his illegal questioning.

Despite the ruling, Georgia’s political opposition continues to lobby for Merabishvili’s immediate release, claiming the ECtHR confirmed their suspicions that Merabishvili is being held for “political reasons”.

“The (European Human Rights) Court said in its verdict that Merabishvili’s detention had some other motivation aimed at gaining information about former top (government) officials,” said European Georgia MP Otar Kakhidze.

Georgia’s Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani dubbed the opposition’s claims as “groundless”, saying the court’s decision added further credence to the case against Merabishvili.

“The ECtHR’s verdict, which will not be appealed, stressed that Merabishvili’s detention is in accordance with the law,” Tsulukiani said, before adding that the removal of Merabishvili from his cell - without his lawyer being present at the time - was of little consequence to her office.

Merabishvili served as prime minister and interior minister under the previous government of Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM).

He was arrested in May 2013, shortly after the Georgian Dream coalition defeated the UNM in the 2012 Parliamentary Elections, and was later charged with having forged documents, falsified votes and abused his position of power.

Tbilisi’s City Court convicted Merabishvili in 2014 of several crimes, including the use of excessive force when dispersing protestors, which carried a multi-year prison sentence.