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Dissident lawyer detained on drug charges

By Shorena Labadze
Thursday, April 24
A high-profile lawyer was detained overnight on April 21 on drug charges, but his allies claim political motivations for the arrest.

Malkhaz Jangirashvili was released April 22 without charges. His colleagues say Jangirashvili was scheduled to lead a meeting that day between diplomats and critics of the Georgian justice system, and suggest police arrested him to prevent him from attending.

Patrol police arrested Jangirashvili on suspicion of the purchase and possession of illegal drugs on April 21, according to Interior Affairs Ministry investigator Mamuka Sarchimelia.

“After detaining Jangirashvili, he turned out to have a five-gram syringe with [unknown substances],” Sarchimelia told reporters.

Sarchimelia said preliminary tests suggested the presence of illegal drugs.

Jangirashvili was arrested outside a hospital. The owner of a nearby supermarket said he was with Jangirashvili and a member of the pro-opposition NGO Equality Institute at the hospital before the arrest, and suggested police targeted Jangirashvili intentionally.

“After leaving the hospital building one of the policemen didn’t like Jangirashvili’s complexion, saying he was too slim,” the supermarket owner recalled.

One of Jangirashvili’s lawyers said his client was in fact carrying a syringe and doctor-prescribed painkiller, but that police, after a preliminary search, arrested him for allegedly possessing an illegal opiate.

Jangirashvili refused to consent to the search, according to his lawyer.

“He in fact had a syringe [and medicine] with him…as he was injured in a car crash recently and suffers leg pains. Therefore, he carries pain relieving medicines with him,” the lawyer said.

The lawyer said Jangirashvili suspected the police of swapping his syringe and medication for something incriminating.

“Jangirashvili told me that after the policemen put his private things in their car, he was led away from the scene. So, he didn’t witness the sealing of his things. Given these facts, we can’t rule out the possibility the syringe was swapped,” said another of Jangirashvili’s lawyers.

Jangirashvili’s supporters gathered in front of the police station where he was detained after his lawyers said they were prevented from seeing him.

The next day, a group of Georgian lawyers met with foreign diplomats to discuss worries about Georgia’s court system.

“We told the diplomats that there isn’t a court system at all in this country,” commented lawyer Shalva Khachapuridze, who once represented the late billionaire Badri Patarkatsishvili. “We told them about concrete facts, including pressure on lawyers.”

Another meeting attendee said Jangirashvili’s arrest was brought up at the meeting.

According to Khachapuridze, representatives of the OSCE and countries including France, Germany, Switzerland and Holland were at the meeting.

Asked to comment on April 22, outgoing chair of the parliamentary human rights and civil integration committee Elene Tevdoradze said she had not heard about the arrest but was sure the lawyer is innocent.

“Any connection between Jangirashvili and drugs is definitely ruled out,” said Tevdoradze. “I’ve known this person for years.”

Interior Ministry spokespeople declined to comment on the arrest.

This spring, Jangirashvili went on a 28-day hunger strike in demand of judicial reforms. His protest ended April 7 as his colleagues took up the cause and led further demonstrations.