Georgia’s former Prime and Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, who has called his sentence ‘politically motivated’ was released today after serving over six years in prison. Upon his release, he told journalists that he will be returning to politics and challenging the ruling party.
Merabishvili was sentenced in February 2014 on multiple charges, including misspending state funds, bribery, and exceeding official powers.
He had complained to the European Court of Human Rights that his prosecution and pre-trial detention were politically motivated.
The court stopped short of ruling that the charges against him were politically motivated, as Merabishvili’s lawyers claimed. It did, however, rule that the Georgian authorities violated two articles of the European Convention on Human Rights in their treatment of him while in detention.
A litany of charges
Merabishvili was arrested in 2013 on charges of misspending ₾5.2 million [$1.8 million] from the state employment program and of the unlawful appropriation of a house in Kvariati, a town in eastern Georgia.
He was also charged with bribing the electorate through the state employment program.
Later that year, he was further charged for physically assaulting Georgian Dream MP Valeri Gelashvili. Gelashvili and those accompanying him were beaten by state officials, following an article in which the MP criticised then-President Mikheil Saakashvili for illegally seizing his house.
According to the prosecutor’s office, Saakashvili ordered Merabishvili ‘to make an example’ of Gelashvili.
According to the charges, not only was Gelashvili beaten, but the perpetrators also took his gun, $10,000 in cash, and a ring worth ₾50,000 ($29,000).
Some of the most serious charges against the former Prime Minister also include, ‘exceeding official power’ for a supposed 2006 retaliation against a man named Sandro Girgvliani who had got into an argument with his wife, Tako Salakaia; as well as ‘exceeding official power’ for his role in the violent dispersal of opposition protesters on 26 May, 2011, as a result of which 37 people were injured.
Return to politics
‘I promise you that this government will end in a year’, Merabishvili said upon his release. He added that ‘after overthrowing this government, the doors of this prison will be opened wide and all political prisoners in there will be freed’.
He said he’ll actively engage in politics to defeat Ivanishvili’s ‘regime’, however didn’t specify with which opposition party he would ally with, promising to inform the public in the near future.
Former President Mikheil Saakashvili said he welcomed Merabishvili’s release ‘after so many years in jail that he served without being guilty’.
He called on opposition political parties to reconcile and look into the future, not into the past.
Georgian Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani said that opposition parties do not want anything to do with him because ‘he is a problem,[...] a butcher’ and referred to a video published in January 2014, in which Merabishvili can be seen telling police he needs ‘two men, two corpses’ and that there would be a big award for whoever executes his order.
It was never made clear which two men Merabishvili was referring to.
Vakhushti Menabde, a constitutional lawyer at the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association wrote on Facebook that some are trying to portray Merabishvili, ‘who was the main face and backbone of the inhuman system’ as a ‘symbol of the fight for justice’.
Tamta Mikeladze from the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Centre wrote that the praise of Merabishvili is an erasure of history.
‘Everything can be rewritten, faked and forgotten’, Mikeladze wrote. ‘These elites have taken over our resources, public spaces, media and do everything to maintain power.’
Political analyst, Gia Nodia, wrote that he welcomes Merabishvili’s release as he ‘has a lion’s share in making police serve the Georgian people together with Saakashvili’.
Merabishvili's freedom comes at the midst of heightened political tension and steady democratic backsliding in Georgia. Winning of this year’s elections at all costs, by bending rules and prosecuting opposition will have an effect on bilateral EU–Georgian relations.#FreedomVano pic.twitter.com/vFLk5ksHDv
— Sandra Kalniete (@Kalniete) February 20, 2020