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The News in Brief

Monday, April 7
Georgian officials monitor Russian law change

The Government of Georgia is keeping a close eye on a recent Russian law change and is ready to take legal action against the domineering country if the new law negatively impacts Georgia.

Georgia’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Davit Zalkaliani said he did not know the full extent of the changes in the Russian legislation, which were approved by the State Duma. He said if the changes implied threats against Georgia, the government would respond.

"There has been information that Russian passports have been handed over to Samtskhe-Javakheti inhabitants. We have checked this information and found out that this is not happening,” Zalkaliani said.

Samtskhe-Javakheti is a region in Southern Georgia and it is an important area in terms of Georgia’s development. The Baku-Tbilisi Ceihan oil pipeline, the South Caucasus natural gas pipeline and the Kars-Tbilisi-Baku railway, which is currently under construction, all pass through the region. The area has a common border with Turkey and Armenia.

Zalkaliani said the Government was attentive to the new legislation recently approved in the Russian Federation.

"We do not know the legislation fully so far but it is important for our lawyers to explore the issue in case there are any threats against Georgia, or if it defies our interests, they should be confronted with legal measures,” he said.

The Russian State Duma passed a law yesterday which allows foreigners to receive Russian citizenship in a simplified manner.

Opposition groups form coalition in Tbilisi

A coalition of opposition parties not represented in Parliament met on Friday to present their candidate for Tbilisi Mayor: former MP Dimitry Lortkipanidze.

The coalition was created by Nino Burjanadze’s Democratic Movement together with three other parties: Georgian Dasi, the Christian Democratic Movement and the Left Alliance. The coalition is called the United Opposition.

Lortkipanidze was also a candidate for ombudsman in late 2012 after the change of government. His years as an advocate for prisoners’ rights earned him the support of many relatives of prisoners, but he was also criticized for allegedly making homophobic statements.

“We will fight for victory in the local government election,” Nino Burjanadze said at a press conference.

“We are starting the United Opposition and we plan to fight in the local government election, as well as the parliamentary election,” Burjanadze said.
(Democracy & Freedom Watch)

Saakashvili wants to educate Ukrainians in reforms

Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili is to start a center for the study of reforms in the Ukrainian capital Kiev.

Saakashvili, who is currently in Kiev, said in an interview with a TV channel there that he wants to share his experiences with this center, which will also be an educational center.

“We will bring students, including Georgians there,” he said and claimed to be in negotiations with several universities about the plans, which also involves a center in Washington.

In the interview with Ukrainian TV, he said the fate of the region is being decided in Ukraine these days.

“Ukraine decides its own, but also Georgia’s, Moldova’s and even Russia’s fate,” he said.

Saakashvili added that Ukraine has large potential in regard to reforms, as it has an educated younger generation.

He claimed to have received several job offers in Kiev.

“Because they know I have many connections in Ukraine,” he added.
(Democracy & Freedom Watch)

Saakashvili Associate Summoned By Georgian Prosecutor

A close associate of Georgia's former President Mihkeil Saakashvili has been summoned by prosecutors for questioning.

The prosecutor's office said on April 4 that Giga Bokeria, the secretary of the opposition United National Movement party, will be questioned later in the day as a "witness" in connection to investigation on the misappropriation of state funds.

Bokeria, who served as secretary of the National Security Council in 2010-13, said the Prosecutor's Office is "being used as a tool of political persecution" and called the questioning politically motivated.

Last month, prosecutors summoned Saakashvili to be questioned as a witness in connection with 10 cases.

Saakashvili, who left office in November and is currently out of Georgia, refused to show up at the Prosecutor's Office and to be questioned online.
(Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty)

U.S. House Speaker 'Troubled by Political Retribution' in Georgia

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner said he is “deeply troubled by a pattern of ongoing harassment and detainment of former government officials as well as current opposition officials” in Georgia.

His written statement on April 4 was made in reaction to the questioning of the former secretary of National Security Council Giga Bokeria by prosecutors earlier on the same day.

Boehner said that this pattern “should be cause for concern throughout the international community of free nations.”

“Today’s report [of questioning Bokeria] is just the latest disturbing news casting doubts regarding the current Georgian government’s commitment to freedom, openness and democracy, especially as the country prepares for local elections. While the United States has no choice but to view these developments in the Republic of Georgia with increasing concern, I will continue to staunchly support the strong partnership the United States enjoys with those Georgians who remain committed to the values and defense of a free, democratic society,” reads the statement.

Swedish Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, tweeted: “Getting worried by developments in Georgia. Government's politics of revenge is not congruent with a free and fair election environment.”

Government approves changes to justice system

The Government has approved a proposal to increase the transparency of plea bargaining.

Justice Minister Thea Tsulukiani explained the main change to the plea agreement law, which saw the creation of a special report that recorded all details of discussions between the prosecution and those accused.

The reports would record topics discussed, any issues and any agreements made between the parties.

After the government meeting, Tsulukiani said the reform to the plea bargaining law would benefit the prosecution and the accused, as both parties would know exactly what was agreed.

She noted this change would make this process more transparent.

"The draft law foresees writing a special report after plea bargaining negotiations begin between the prosecutor and the accused, and this is a novelty,” she said.

"The special report will depict the topic on which the deal was made, what the parties agreed to, and will be confirmed by both parties. Besides that, after the plea agreement is sent to the court for approval, the Judge will be obliged to explain its legal consequences to the defendant.

"In particular, if the accused are considered guilty, they will not have the opportunity to review the criminal case and other subsequent effects,” the Justice Minister said.

"Moreover, in the process of making the agreement, the rights of the victims are expanding [and they] will be able to attend the process in the courtroom and express their opinion on the plea agreement,” Tsulukiani said.