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Investigating alleged pressure on judges

By Tea Mariamidze
Monday, February 6
The Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia (POG) issued a statement saying that an investigation has been launched into alleged pressure put on two judges of Supreme Court of Georgia, Besarion Alavidze and Paata Katamadze.

The statement reads that the investigation was initiated on January 14 on the basis of written statements of the two judges and an application filed by the chair of the Supreme Court.

“The documents reveal that the judges received letters on their home addresses from the former government officials, also they received short text messages from foreign phone number on their mobile phones. In these emails and SMSs, there were signs of attempted interference in their activities,” the statement of the POG reads.

The POG also said they would investigate leaked messages of Viber conversations that took place last week allegedly between the former President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, and politician Davit Sakvarelidze. The messages allegedly mention the two judges.

Alavidze and Katamadze were discussing the high-profile Rustavi 2 TV case in the board of the Supreme Court of Georgia and in November 2016 they passed the case to the Grand Chamber.

The two judges have not made any comments yet, so it is unclear exactly who really tried to pressure them.

Rustavi 2 is one of the most popular channels in Georgia, and played an important role during the Rose Revolution in 2003, which ended Eduard Shevardnadze’s leadership.

The channel’s Director General, Nika Gvaramia, stated at a press conference that there was pressure on the judges from the government to make them rule against the TV channel. Gvaramia called on all independent and pro-Western media in Georgia to express their solidarity with Rustavi 2.

Moreover, Gvaramia says that the two judges really applied to the POG, but they complained about pressure from the State Security Agency (SSS), not about the former governmental officials, as the POG’s statement said.

“This is the first case in Georgia when Supreme Court judges expose the system from the inside and speak about pressure exerted on them”, Gvaramia said and called on Nino Gvenetadze, Chair of the Supreme Court, to raise her voice and protect the judges.

Rustavi 2 TV General Director says that the judges were asked to change the names of those accused of pressure and name not the representatives of the government, but people allegedly associated with Saakashvili and his political allies.

“The only branch of the government which is not involved in Rustavi 2 case is the President of Georgia, who is now the only guarantor of freedom of expression. We ask him to be deeply informed about this case. We demand the Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia to publish the plot of the judges’ statements and stop the pressure on judges,” he stressed.

Gigi Ugulava, a member of the Movement for Freedom – European Georgia party, believes that the Chair of the Supreme Court should have informed the public regarding the pressure on judges.

“It does not need a lot of thinking to guess where this pressure comes from,” he said.

Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze said that Parliament will observe the process and in case of necessity, they will react.

“It is a pity that at any stage the Court had no opportunity to calmly discuss the Rustavi 2 case,” he added.

Members of the High Council of Justice say they found out about the alleged pressure on members of Supreme Council from the media. They believe that the Supreme Court Chair should have informed them about the incident.

Kibar Khalvashi, who was a co-owner of Rustavi 2 from 2004 to 2006, filed a lawsuit in August 2015 to reclaim his shares in Rustavi 2, saying he was illegally deprived of his company shares under the previous United National Movement (UNM) government, which ran Georgia in 2003-2012.

Since then, all court verdicts said the channel’s shares should be given back to Khalvashi, until November 21, when three judges of the Supreme Court made a decision to hand the notorious case to the Chamber, tasked to discuss only the most complex cases.