Georgian MPs have voted in favour of stripping Nika Melia, chair of the opposition United National Movement Party (UNM), of his parliamentary immunity.
In a vote on Tuesday, 88 of 150 MPs voted to allow Melia’s arrest. Almost all opposition MPs, including those of Melia’s own UNM, were not present due to a boycott of parliament. Two MPs, Aleko Elisashvili and Levan Ioseliani from the Citizens Party, voted against the measure.
The Prosecutor’s Office appealed to Parliament to approve Melia’s arrest after he removed an electronic monitoring bracelet and failed to pay bail pending his trial for ‘leading and participating in group violence’ over the June 2019 violence outside parliament.
Melia, who was elected chair of the UNM in late December, has called the investigation politically motivated.
Melia removed and threw away his electronic bracelet on 1 November, in front of a gathered crowd in Tbilisi protesting the conduct of parliamentary elections the previous day.
Despite finding time to strip Melia of his immunity, MPs from the ruling Georgian Dream party have continued to delay consideration of his appeal to revoke his seat.
MPs from six out of eight opposition groupings elected on 31 October refused to recognise the vote as legitimate and rejected their seats, demanding repeated elections.
The Girchi and Citizens parties, while not outright rejecting their seats, have disputed the election results.
Defying ‘unjust decision’
Speaking before parliament prior to the vote against Melia, prosecutor Amiran Guluashvili argued that there would be no point in seeking increased bail for Melia as he had already refused to make a previous payment.
Tbilisi City Court had given him until 5 December to pay ₾40,000 ($12,000) bail. This was increased from ₾30,000 ($9,100) after he removed his monitoring bracelet and defied other restrictions.
Melia wore the device for 16 months after he was indicted for ‘leading and participating in group violence’ on the night of 20 June 2019.
[Read more on OC Media: Thousands clash with police as protesters try to storm Georgian Parliament]
Melia has argued that he actually began defying the ‘unjust decision’ by the court much earlier than last November, by addressing various protest rallies. He said that prosecutors had not previously reacted to this.
Hours before Tuesday’s vote, Georgian Public Defender Nino Lomjaria advised the ruling party against stripping Melia of his immunity. Lomjaria argued that 18 months since the initial indictment, preventative measures against Melia were not in the interests of justice.
This is the second time parliament has greenlit measures against Melia; Georgian Dream PMs stripped him of his parliamentary immunity within days of the clashes in Tbilisi in 2019.
Several months later, he was suspended as an MP after being found guilty of abuse of power in 2012.
If the prosecution’s motion is approved by Tbilisi City Court, Melia will be remanded into custody in the coming days, something that his party vowed they would not let happen.
‘Pleasing’ Russian Communist Gavrilov and Kremlin
In addition to claiming the case was politically motivated, Melia’s UNM have argued that his prosecution was aimed at ‘pleasing’ the Russian government following the anti-Russia and anti-Georgian Dream protest that erupted in June 2019 in Tbilisi.
On 15 February, Russian lawmaker Sergey Gavrilov further fueled their claims by complimenting Georgian Dream for the prosecution’s latest motion in an interview with TV Pirveli. It was Gavrilov’s address to the Georgian parliament that sparked the 2019 clashes.
In response, Georgian Dream MPs accused the UNM of allying with Gavrilov by arranging for him to make an inflammatory comment.
In an attempt to discredit Georgian Government, radical opposition cooperates with Russian national-communist politician Gavrilov, through a pre-meditated phone comment.
This is not the first time Russian Duma deputy comes to aid Saakashvili’s UNM and its satellite parties.
— George Khelashvili (@gkhelash) February 15, 2021
Gavrilov, a Russian Communist Party MP, was invited to address the Georgian parliament from the speaker’s tribune as part of the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of Orthodoxy in 2019.
Critics said the move was offensive given Russia’s role in the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Protesters threw plastic bottles and other objects at Gavrilov as he was whisked away from his hotel in Tbilisi on 20 June.
Following months of political deadlock and the latest motion by the Prosecutor’s Office, a number of opposition parties have announced a protest demonstration on 25 February in Tbilisi and Batumi.
The date coincides with the annually marked anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Georgia that effectively ended the Democratic Republic of Georgia in 1921.