European Court to rule whether Georgia’s detention and prosecution of former Prime Minister was politically motivated

Published: 21 Nov 2017

Ivane Merabishvili appears during a preliminary hearing of his case. (Reuters)

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On 28 November, the Grand Chamber of European Court of Human Rights will deliver its judgment on whether political motivations were behind former Prime Minister and Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili’s prosecution and pre-trial detention, if it was lawful and if it was misused to exert pressure on him. He is represented by EHRAC (Middlesex University, London) and Otar Kakhidze (Georgia).

Why is this important?

Following the Georgian Dream coalition’s victory in the 2012 parliamentary elections, almost the entire leadership of the former ruling party (the United National Movement) were arrested and/or charged with a range of offences, including the former President Mikheil Saakashvili and the former Mayor of Tbilisi, Giorgi Ugulava. The European Court very rarely establishes breaches relating to political motivation, and its initial ruling on this case was the first ever such finding against Georgia. This was challenged by the Government. A second finding by the Grand Chamber, the highest body in the Court, that Mr Merabishvili’s detention was politically motivated will send a strong message to Georgia and its neighbours where opposition activists and politicians are regularly arrested on falsified charges, that such practices are an affront to democracy.

What happened?

Mr Merabishvili was arrested and detained in May 2013. In December 2013, he was taken from his Tbilisi prison cell in the middle of the night, and, with his head covered, was driven to an unknown destination where he was questioned by the Chief Public Prosecutor and the head of the Georgian prison service. They offered Mr Merabishvili a ‘deal’: to provide information about Mr. Saakashvili and about the death of former Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania in exchange for a guarantee that he would be released and allowed to leave the country with his family. He refused to comply and was threatened with worsening prison conditions. He was convicted and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment shortly afterwards.

“The Grand Chamber’s ruling will establish that political prosecutions are simply unacceptable in a democratic state and breach international human rights standards. The Court’s findings will have implications across Europe in other states – including Azerbaijan and Russia, where political motivations lie behind the detention and prosecution of significant critical voices.”

Professor Philip Leach, EHRAC Director

Find out more

EHRAC lawyers Philip Leach and Joanne Sawyer at the Grand Chamber hearing, March 2017.

This is the second European Court ruling on this case – Mr Merabishvili won his first case: you read about the original precedent-setting decision, and its impact, in some of our earlier pieces about the case.

How did the Georgian Government justify its actions? You can watch the European Court Grand Chamber hearing (March 2017) and read about what we argued.

For more on the context, the Georgian Democracy Initiative has published a report entitled ‘Politically biased justice in Georgia’, including detailed analysis of Mr Merabishvili’s case.

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