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A group of prominent Georgian non-governmental organisations have continued to boycott the selection of a new chief prosecutor, demanding the process be postponed until a candidate can be selected under new rules that ensure the appointment of a ‘politically neutral professional’. The Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary, an association of several prominent NGOs, made another statement on Tuesday calling on the government to remove Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani from the Prosecutorial Council by reforming the system.
Eighteen candidates have been nominated for the office. According to the current procedure, the Justice Minister, who chairs the Prosecutorial Council, will choose and present three candidates. The council, whose members come from the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government, will vote on those choices, and then present their preferred candidate to the government. If they are approved, the candidate will be presented to parliament for a final vote.
In October, the procedure and composition of the decision-makers inside the council are set to change in accordance with the new Georgian Constitution. NGOs have urged officials to use this new, higher standard to select the new prosecutor.
The Coalition said that if Tsulukiani directs the process, it will not be free from political influence.
‘Since 2012, not a single Chief Prosecutorial candidate nominated by Tea Tsulukiani — Archil Kbilashvili, Otar Partskhaladze, Giorgi Badashvili, Irakli Shotadze — was politically neutral, casting doubt on the objectivity and impartiality of the Chief Prosecutor. All of these candidates reinforce our belief that the Justice Minister’s heading of the selection process will once again fail to deliver on the public demand for an independent, impartial, and effective Chief Prosecutor’, the NGOs said in their statement.
They reiterated that in 2015, the Venice Commission — a Council of Europe advisory body of constitutional experts — noted the dominance of political forces in the selection process for Chief Prosecutor and consequently called for both the Justice Minister’s role and the degree of political participation in the process to be reduced.
On Tuesday, Sopho Verdzeuli from the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Centre (EMC), a member of the coalition, spoke about how the new constitution will change the process of selection.
‘The constitutional reforms completely transform the prosecutorial system, including the rules of selecting a chief prosecutor. The Minister of Justice will no longer be able to name a candidate unilaterally. The composition and function of the Prosecutorial Council will also change. If we select a candidate now with flawed rules, and they work for the next six years, it means the constitutional changes that should be enforced in a few months will have no effect’, said Verdzeuli.
NGOs have been also demanding Tsulukiani’s resignation, claiming she has failed to deliver several key reforms, including those on drug policy, the creation of an independent mechanism to investigate crimes committed by police or prosecutors, judicial reform, and the selection process for judges for the European Court of Human Rights.
[Read more about the protest with boots at the Government’s Chancellery on OC Media: Georgian PM ‘used Facebook bots’ in defence of Justice Minister]
After they voiced their demands, then PM Giorgi Kvirikashvili defended Tsulukiani on Facebook and was later accused of using Facebook bots to ‘like’ his post.
On 6 June, demonstrators left dozens of boots outside the government Chancellery building to protest the government’s use of ‘shameful propaganda tools’.
Chief Prosecutor Irakli Shotadze’s resignation
Georgia’s Chief Prosecutor Irakli Shotadze resigned on 31 May following large protests in Tbilisi. The protests were sparked by what critics call a ‘compromised investigation’ into the fatal stabbing of two teenagers outside a school in Tbilisi in December. On 31 May, Tbilisi City Court found one teenager guilty of killing Levan Dadunashvili, while another was found guilty of the lesser charge of attempted murder on Davit Saralidze, leaving open the question of who killed him.
[Read more about Shotadze’s resignation on OC Media: Georgia’s chief prosecutor resigns amidst mass protests]
After the court’s ruling was announced, crowds began to gather in front of the Prosecutor’s Office demanding Shotadze’s resignation.
As leading human rights organisations including the Open Society Georgia Foundation, Georgian Young Lawyers Association, and Transparency International Georgia, as well as opposition parties and some members of the ruling Georgian Dream party repeated this demand, Shotadze resigned.
Former prime minister and head of the ruling Georgian Dream party Bidzina Ivanishvili called Shotadze’s resignation a ‘dignified’ and ‘responsible’ step, and an example of a ‘new standard’ of accountability established by the Georgian Dream–led government. Ivanishvili also promised the public that justice would ‘definitely be served’.
Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani, who proclaimed after Shotadze’s appointment in 2015 that he would be Georgia’s ‘best chief prosecutor ever’, disagreed with his decision to step down. Tsulukiani argued that it was a common mistake to ‘demand the chief prosecutor’s head be served-up after the prosecution’s demands were not fully met by an independent court’.
[Read more about protests over Khorava street Murder investigation on OC Media: Saralidze calls for protests to continue after meeting with Georgian PM]