Appointments to Georgia’s High Council of Justice have faced criticism because several of the judges have previously made controversial rulings, while one is accused of writing homophobic comments on Facebook.
After the appointments made headlines, Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili issued a statement saying the Georgian Dream party ‘shared concerns’ regarding some of the appointed judges.
Georgia’s High Council of Justice appointed 44 new judges to permanent terms on 22 February; the appointed judges will retain their seats until retiring. The council is responsible for overall management of the country’s judiciary, including the appointment of all new judges.
One of the appointees, Judge Natia Gujabidze, was a member of the judicial board at the Tbilisi Court of Appeals in 2016, when they heard the controversial Rustavi 2 case. The board upheld a ruling handing 100% of the opposition-leaning channel to businessman Kibar Khalvashi. Rustavi 2 had requested she be recused from the case, claiming she was biased and under the government’s influence.
Judge Shorena Guntsadze came under fire after sentencing actor Giorgi ‘Bakhala’ Giorganashvili to 8 years in prison for possession of 0.37 grammes of buprenorphine. Giorganashvili had insisted police planted drugs on him, and a rally criticising the ‘practice of drug planting’ was held several days later.
Lili Mskhiladze’s appointment has been criticised after an image of a homophobic facebook post, which appears to have been written by her, spread online. The post, dated 17 May of 2013, International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, contains homophobic slurs and calls queer people ‘sick’. Despite violent attacks on a small queer rights rally that day, the post suggested police should have arrested the organisers of the rally, not ‘the Georgian boys who have been provoked’.
In his statement, Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili highlighted the ‘tough reaction’ to the appointment of Manuchar Kapanadze, a judge who ruled in two well-known cases.
Kapanadze was a judge in the trial of Sulkhan Molashvili, an ex-official convicted in 2005 for abuse of power, hiding a crime, and appropriation of state funds. Molashvili was sentenced to 9 years in prison, but was released in 2008 after addressing the European Court of Human Rights, claiming he had been tortured in his prison cell.
Kapanadze also ruled on the ‘Cables Case’ which resulted in the conviction of several defence ministry officials in 2014 for misspending state funds.
The defendants had asked for Kapanadze to be recused ‘because he wasn’t able to withstand pressure on politically motivated cases’, a claim which was dismissed.
The group was pardoned by Georgian president Giorgi Margvelashvili in 2017.
While the PM’s statement expressed concerns regarding ‘several judges’ on the list, he did not mention any other than Kapanadze.
The High Council of Justice has not officially responded to public concerns regarding the appointments.