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Georgia’s chief prosecutor resigns amidst mass protests

1 June 2018
Zaza Saralidze (Dato Parulava/OC Media)

Georgia’s chief prosecutor, Irakli Shotadze, has resigned, following large protests in Tbilisi. The protests have been sparked by what critics call a ‘compromised investigation’ into the fatal stabbing of two teenagers outside a school in Tbilisi in December. On Thursday, Tbilisi City Court found one teenager guilty of killing Levan Dadunashvili, while another was found guilty of the lesser charge of attempted murder on Davit Saralidze, leaving open the question of who killed him.

The court sentenced the two defendants to, 10 years and 6 months and 9 years and 9 months on Friday. The prosecution announced they would appeal the sentences, as well as the court’s decision to acquit both of the defendants of the murder of 16-year-old Davit Saralidze. However, one the victims’ father, Zaza Saralidze, claims that Georgian authorities never intended to properly investigate the murder of his son.

[Read more on OC Media: Tbilisi court partially acquits teenagers of fatal school stabbings]

Speaking to the thousands of people gathered outside Tbilisi’s parliament building after the verdict, Zaza Saralidze vowed to ‘destroy the system’, demanding the entire government step down.

Saralidze also repeated demands to prosecute Mirza Subeliani, the father of one of the participants of the deadly school fight and a former high-ranking official at Prosecutor’s Office. Subeliani was seen on CCTV at the crime scene, allegedly tampering with evidence.

Thousands protested in front of Tbilisi's parliament (Dato Parulava/OC Media)
(Mari Nikuradze/OC Media)
Despite heavy rain, thousands remained outside parliament late into the night. (Dato Parulava/OC Media)

Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili attempted to address the crowd shortly before midnight offering to continue the investigation, but his speech was cut short as the crowd booed and bottles were thrown at him by protesters.

He was instead forced to address the public through a press briefing from his office, where he vowed to give the relatives of the victims full access to the investigation, which would be led by Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia. Kvirikashvili also promised to personally oversee the investigation, and offered to allow the opposition to head a parliamentary investigative committee into the killings.

A small group of protesters, including Saralidze, pitched several tents and stayed overnight in front of the parliament, and protest organisers announced the rally would resume at 16:00 on Friday. Similar protests were also held in Kutaisi and Batumi on Thursday.

In a post on Facebook, Saralidze reported that the government had ‘started a new investigation’ into his son’s death, and according to Liberali, Mirza Subeliani visited the Interior Ministry on Thursday, allegedly after being summoned for questioning.

Saralidze claimed on Friday morning that witnesses had been ‘intimidated and bought’, that evidence had been destroyed, and therefore, there could be no investigation. He called the renewed investigation an attempt by the government to ‘deceive’ him. Saralidze also thanked President Giorgi Margvelashvili, calling him ‘the only one supporting him from the government’.

Margvelashvili visited Salaridze in his tent on Friday. ‘My mission is to communicate with Zaza [Salaridze] and with others[…] so that everything remains peaceful’, Margvelashvili said after the meeting, adding that he would be talking with the government with the same intention.

The chief prosecutor resigns

After the court’s ruling was announced, crowds began to gather in front of the Prosecutor’s Office demanding Chief Prosecutor Irakli Shotadze’s resignation.

As leading human rights organisations including the Open Society Georgia Foundation, Georgian Young Lawyers Association, and Transparency International Georgia, as well as opposition parties and some members of the ruling Georgian Dream party repeated this demand, Shotadze resigned.

Demonstrators held pictures of the victims in a protest outside the Prosecutor's Office (Dato Parulava/OC Media)

Former prime minister and head of the ruling Georgian Dream party Bidzina Ivanishvili called Shotadze’s resignation a ‘dignified’ and ‘responsible’ step, and an example of a ‘new standard’ of accountability established by the Georgian Dream-led government. Ivanishvili also promised the public that justice would ‘definitely be served’.

Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani, who proclaimed after Shotadze’s appointment in 2015 that he would be Georgia’s ‘best chief prosecutor ever’, disagreed with his decision to step down. Tsulukiani argued that it was a common mistake to ‘demand the chief prosecutor’s head be served-up after the prosecution’s demands were not fully met by an independent court’.

On Friday, the Georgian Orthodox Church put out a statement hailing the renewed investigation into the killings and urging the government to address ‘challenges to fair and effective justice’. The government also remarked that as the government was ‘taking steps’, the Church could ‘not support the development of unruly processes’ in the country.

Khorava Street murder

Davit Saralidze and Levan Dadunashvili were fatally wounded on 1 December 2017 in a brawl that followed an argument in central Tbilisi’s School #51. The conflict between ninth-year and eleventh-year students started with a verbal altercation in the school toilet and culminated with a fight involving dozens of young people outside the school’s premises on Khorava Street.

On 2 December, two teenagers were charged with ‘premeditated murder of an underage person’, and another five for failing to report the crime.

The double-killing caused shock-waves in Georgia, with some questioning whether the ‘criminal thinking of the nineties has returned’ (Luka Pertaia/OC Media)

The investigation has been plagued by allegations of misconduct since its launch and Saralidze’s family and supporters claimed the investigation into the stabbings had been compromised by evidence tampering, including by Mirza Subeliani.

The Saralidze family said Subeliani would have had access to and could have influenced the investigation, and criticised the fact that he did not resign post until three days after the event.

The lawyer of one of the defendants has also claimed misconduct. Inga Sharashenidze and forensics expert Maia Nikoleishvili said that prosecutors threatened them after a report by Nikoleishvili contradicted the Prosecutor’s Office’s official version of events. Two days later, the Prosecutor’s Office confirmed they were looking into the matter.

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