Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili has pardoned Nika Gvaramia, the imprisoned head of pro-opposition TV channel Mtavari, three days after the Supreme Court upheld his conviction.
Gvaramia was convicted by Tbilisi City Court in May 2022 for allegedly embezzling money as the director of another TV company, Rustavi 2. He was sentenced to three and a half years in prison.
His imprisonment, widely seen as being politically motivated, had been condemned internationally, including by the US and EU.
President Zurabishvili had also increasingly come under pressure from opposition groups and civil society to issue the pardon, especially in light of Georgia’s EU membership bid.
One of the EU’s 12 ‘priorities’ for Georgia in order for their membership candidacy to be reconsidered was to ‘undertake stronger efforts to guarantee a free […] media environment, notably by ensuring that criminal procedures brought against media owners fulfil the highest legal standards.’
Announcing the decision on Thursday evening, the president declined to comment on her reasoning while also aiming a thinly-veiled barb at those attempting to influence her.
‘I just want to remind you of what I also said in Brussels, that such a decision, the discretionary right of the president, is not subject to anyone’s pressure, advice, recommendation or any other type of threat […] this is the president’s decision’, she said.
‘I made this decision after all legal steps were exhausted on 19 June, when the Supreme Court did not accept the cassation appeal. I am not going to give any explanation for this decision, because it is my discretionary right that I use today.’
Reporters Without Borders hailed the decision on Thursday evening. The group were among 10 international media advocacy groups to write a letter to Zurabishvili in 2022 urging the president to issue Gvaramia a pardon.
⚡️#Georgia: President @Zourabichvili_S has just pardoned the director of the opposition channel @MtavariChannel Nika #Gvaramia, in prison since May 2022. RSF welcomes this decision, which has been awaited by the international community. 👇 https://t.co/OGlVgibVe9
— RSF (@RSF_inter) June 22, 2023
After the Supreme Court dismissed Gvaramia’s appeal against his conviction on 19 June, he stated that he planned to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights.
Gvaramia was charged in 2020 with abuse of power and embezzling property at Rustavi 2, commercial bribery, and forging documents.
The prosecution’s case rested on a Porsche Macan S worth €76,700 ($79,900) being given to Rustavi 2 in early 2019 in exchange for advertisements on the channel. Prosecutors argued the car was procured for the use of Gvaramia’s family.