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Georgian president refuses to pardon ‘poison plot’ archpriest Giorgi Mamaladze

7 January 2020
Giorgi Mamaladze (Georgian Public Broadcaster)

Georgian president Salome Zurabishvili has refused to pardon Giorgi Mamaladze, a controversial archpriest convicted of plotting the murder of Shorena Tetruashvili, the secretary of Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church Ilia II, in September 2017.

Zurabishvili’s move came despite an official plea from the Church’s ruling body, the Holy Synod, to pardon Mamaladze.

Zurabishvili pardoned five convicts on 6 January, upon lifting the moratorium she had put on her authority to pardon following the public outrage in August, which followed revelations of a number of controversial clemencies made by her earlier in the month. 

In early August, President Zurabishvili pardoned, among others, a man convicted of killing a police officer as well as a convicted child molester. 

Why didn’t Zurabishvili pardon the archpriest

On Monday, President Zurabishvili said that, in addition to being judicially unjustifiable,  a pardon for Mamaladze would 'contribute to further polarization in society’. 

‘Firstly, this decision relies on the principle of justice. I couldn’t find an argument, now that the criteria for pardoning are tougher, why should I have made an exception in the case of archpriest Mamaladze when the cases of many other convicts couldn’t be considered’, Zurabishvili said. 

She added that had she decided otherwise, the majority of Georgians wouldn't be able to understand why and as a result it would ‘endanger the future of our country’.

‘My next argument relies on the historic specifics of Georgian state. It is inseparable from the Church, which always paved the way to its freedom’, the President continued.  ‘Attacking the Church, attempts to discredit and demoralise it used to equal, and still equal to weakening Georgian statehood. Therefore, any kind of attack on the Church is inadmissible’, said Zurabishvili. 

Finally, she spoke about the role of Patriarch Ilia II in Georgia regaining its independence and said that ‘an attack on the Patriarch and his authority is equal to an attack on Georgia’. 

‘The Patriarch didn’t want Mamaladze to be freed’

‘I was informed that the Patriarch himself, his holiness Ilia II told Salome Zurabishvili in a private conversation not to free my brother’, Tornike Mamaladze, the brother of the convicted archpriest, told reporters following Zurabishvili’s announcement on Monday. 

He had been holding demonstrations at the office of patriarchate, demanding his brother be pardoned. He has said that Giorgi Mamaladze is in poor health.

On Monday he added that the Patriarch is afraid of his brother, because he thinks he will speak up about the Patriarch’s ‘sins’, upon release. 

He said these ‘sins’ include ‘sodomy and financial fraud’.

‘We kept silent for so long, even about the statements made by Archbishop Petre, but we will be silent no more, because the patriarch went against us. He went against my family’.

On 31 October, following a meeting of the Holy Synod, a high ranking member of the Georgian Orthodox Church, then-Archbishop Petre Tsaava, accused Patriarch Ilia II and other Church officials of ‘pederasty and sodomy’.

Tsaava’s statement sent shockwaves through Georgia with many expressing surprise on social media in part because of both the severity and ambiguity of the allegations.

As a result of his claims, Petre Tsaava was stripped of the title of archbishop.

[Read more on OC Media: Georgian archbishop accuses Patriarch Ilia II of ‘pederasty and sodomy’

On Monday, the press speaker of the Patriarchate, Andria Jagmaidze, said that allegations about a private conversation about Mamaladze between the president and the patriarch are a lie.

Nika Gvaramia, the founder of Mtavari Arkhi, an opposition TV channel, wrote on Facebook on Monday that Giorgi Mamaladze started a hunger strike. 

He said that the imprisoned archpriest is in such poor health that he can barely speak. 

‘The person who declares a war on the Patriarch, do you think he’s sane?’, Archbishop Iakob asked rhetorically before reporters on Tuesday. 

‘Had he been right, even just a little bit, the Patriarch and I would stand by his side’, he added. 

An ‘irrelevant and biased’ decision

Human Rights Education and Monitoring Centre (EMC), a Georgian human rights group, said in a statement on Monday that ‘the basis for substantiation of the president’s decision is irrelevant and biased with regard to the concept and the aims of [Presidential] pardons’.

The organisation said the president should have taken into consideration several factors, including ‘fundamental flaws’ in the judicial proceedings in this case and the convict’s poor health.

Mamaladze was convicted in September and sentenced to nine years in prison. He was arrested last February on suspicion of planning to commit murder, as he was about to board a flight to Berlin, where Patriarch Ilia II was receiving treatment.

After Georgia’s Prosecutor’s Office announced that the target had been a ‘high-ranking’ member of the Church, there was widespread media speculation that Patriarch Ilia II was the target.

The Prosecutor’s Office soon refuted this, claiming Mamaladze’s target was Shorena Tetruashvili, the Patriarch’s secretary-referent. Tetruashvili had accompanied Ilia II in Germany.

As the case was classified ‘top secret’, court sittings were closed, and lawyers and prosecutors were forbidden from disclosing any details.

The charges against Mamaladze were changed several times, as he was first charged with ‘plotting a murder with mercenary purposes’ and illegally buying and keeping a firearm. He was finally convicted of plotting to commit premeditated murder, and buying and keeping a firearm.

Tbilisi-based rights group the Human Rights Centre has denounced the judgement, and along with the Public Defender criticised the court’s decision to close the trial to the public, claiming it was not necessary.

Mamaladze insists his innocence and claims it was Shorena Tetruashvili who asked him to purchase cyanide.

Petre Tsaava, had suggested suggested at the time that Mamaladze’s case was an attempt to distract people from corruption within the institution. Tsaava has claimed Tetruashvili has fostered a ‘shadow government’ within the Church, referring to her as the ‘Grey Cardinal’.

Tetruashvili, who usually remains out of the public eye, has denied both claims.

In February 2018, the Tbilisi Court of Appeals upheld Mamaladze’s conviction.

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