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South Ossetian court: prosecutors committed ‘procedural violations’ against journalist Mearakishvili

4 May 2018
Tamar Mearakishvili (/OC Media)

A South Ossetian court has ruled that the local prosecutor’s office committed procedural violations when dismissing a complaint by journalist Tamara Mearakishvili. Mearakishvili told OC Media she had complained regarding the ‘inaction of the general prosecutor’s office’ while investigating her for slander.

The ruling United Ossetia party filed a complaint against her for slander in August, after which the prosecutor’s office launched a criminal investigation. Investigators reportedly urged her to stop cooperating with Ekho Kavkaza, RFE/RL’s Russian language service covering Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The complaint, according to Mearakishvili, relates to an article she was interviewed for published in Ekho Kavkaza, RFE/RL’s Russian language service covering Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In it, Mearakishvili spoke of cronyism in South Ossetia, detailing the appointment of members and supporters of United Ossetia to official institutions following Anatoly Bibilov’s April election victory.

Mearakishvili appealed against the investigation to the prosecutor’s office. Her lawyer, Ikramzhan Ramatov, told OC Media that they received a ‘simple letter’, stating that their complaint had been rejected.

‘We appealed this in court because it did not follow the requirements of the law; it was written as a letter. According to the procedural code, the prosecutor should have issued an order and explored all the grounds [for launching the investigation]’, Ramatov told OC Media.

According to court records acquired by OC Media, the court ruled on 3 May that the letter could not be considered lawful, as the prosecutor’s office made a procedural violation. They confirmed that the letter Mearakishvili received from the prosecutor’s office was signed by the department head of the general prosecutor’s office, and that according to Russian law, which South Ossetia follows, only the head of an investigative body is authorised to uphold or reject a complaint. The court obliged the prosecutor’s office to reexamine Mearakishvili’s complaint.

‘The court satisfied our demand and ruled that the prosecutor’s office should reconsider our complaint’, Ramatov said.

Mearakishvili claims the authorities in South Ossetia are pursuing an illegal investigation into her for slander and ‘violating the dignity and honour’ of the ruling party.

‘Poor evidence’

Mearakishvili, who lives in the town of Akhalgori (Leningor), which is mostly inhabited by ethnic Georgians, told OC Media she was surprised by the court’s decision.

‘The investigation against me is unlawful because according to [Russian] legislation, slander can only be committed by a physical person against a physical person. A physical person cannot commit slander against a political party’, she told OC Media.

She said she did not provide any names in the comments she gave to Ekho Kavkaza, referring only to ‘party members’.

She also said that even had she committed slander, she should be persecuted under administrative law, not criminal law.

‘The criminal investigation was launched illegally. My case is frozen and no investigation is proceeding. [To prove that I committed slander] they took my private belongings as evidence, such as my lipstick, knitting threads and needles, cooking pots, chewing gum, a camera containing family photos’, Mearakishvili told OC Media.

She insists the authorities simply wanted to demonstrate their power.

Another criminal persecution

Another investigation against Mearakishvili is still ongoing at the prosecutor’s office. In March, she was accused by the local authorities of forgery. Mearakishvili said at the time that she had been under ‘unofficial house arrest’ since August.

Mearakishvili said she was called to the Prosecutor’s Office in Akhalgori on 21 March and notified of the charges.

After the visit, she said that Akhalgori’s Prosecutor’s Office had launched a criminal investigation into her for ‘forging official documents, awards, and stamps’, but was not told on what basis the case was opened.

‘There is no crime in nature that I can be accused of and I will not try to prove my innocence’, Mearakishvili wrote, adding that the local authorities were trying to pressure her into leaving Akhalgori.

Mearakishvili, a veteran journalist who has been recognised for her work in peace reporting by the European Union Monitoring Mission, has been interrogated several times in South Ossetia.

Last June, she was allegedly abducted by South Ossetia’s security service — the KGB. According to Netgazeti, for whom Mearakishvili contributes, she frequently participates in conferences about conflict and peacebuilding initiatives in Tbilisi and elsewhere.

[Read more about charges against Mearakishvili on OC Media: New charges brought against journalist in South Ossetia]

For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.

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