What should happen after the European Court finds a ‘misuse of power’ in criminal proceedings against a leading opposition politician?

21 February 2018

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

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Under cover of darkness one night in December 2013, Ivane Merabishvili was hauled from his prison cell and taken to meet two of the highest ranking officials in Georgian law enforcement. The Chief Prosecutor of Georgia and the Head of the Georgian Prison Service attempted to blackmail the former Georgian Prime Minister into providing information on two other opposition politicians (belonging to Mr Merabishvili’s party, one of whom had recently died). Last November (2017), the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights found that Mr Merabishvili’s detention was politically motivated, in particular because of this incident. So what should happen now, three months after the Court’s judgment?

EHRAC and Georgian lawyer Oto Kakhidze represented Mr Merabishvili before the European Court. In January 2018, EHRAC wrote to the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers – the body charged with monitoring states’ compliance with European Court judgments – setting out the next steps that we argue should be taken in Mr Merabishvili’s case. We requested the Committee to call on the Georgian authorities to:

  • Conduct a rigorous and independent investigation into the events of December 2013, which saw Mr Merabishvili covertly removed from his cell (senior members of the Georgian parliament recognise this as an first important step);
  • To re-open the criminal proceedings against Mr Merabishvili, a process which could justify quashing his conviction; and
  • Pending the outcome of the re-opened criminal proceedings, to release him.

You can read our submission here.

What is this case about?

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 former President Mikheil Saakashvili, and 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.

In November 2017, the European Court ruled that, although the charges on which Mr Merabishvili was originally arrested were reasonably based, the incident in December 2013 signalled that his continued pre-trial detention was used for a reason other than those specified, in violation of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). His detention was no longer justified, and was used to exert pressure on him, in violation of Article 18 ECHR, the object and purpose of which is “to prevent the misuse of power.” It highlighted that, crucially, the Grand Chamber believed Mr Merabishvili’s account of what happened to him on 14 December 2013 – when he was hauled out of his cell – which the Georgian government flatly denied ever occurred.

Find out more

There have been two European Court rulingon this case – Mr Merabishvili won both. You can read about the original precedent-setting decision and its impact, and the second decision by the Grand Chamber of the Court in some of our earlier pieces about the case. We also published analysis of this case on OC Media and Open Democracy.
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. We also represent the former Mayor of Tbilisi, Giorgi Ugulava, in a similar case.
Politically-motivated proceedings are also a systemic problem in Azerbaijan and Russia, in particular for human rights lawyersdefenders and media outletsEHRAC also represents Rasul Jafarov, whose arrest and detention were also found to be politically motivated in March 2016; the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers recently called on the Azerbaijani government to re-open his conviction, which results from a ‘political prosecution’.

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