Statement of NGOs on the Verdict against Gigi Ugulava.
The signatory organizations respond to the ruling of the Supreme Court of Georgia against Gigi Ugulava of February 10, 2020, according to which the opposition party leader was sentenced to three years, two months and eight days in prison. We believe that the decision is a continuation of political persecution by the authorities against the opponents and is problematic in several respects:
The case against Gigi Ugulava was conducted amid significant violations
Prosecutor’s Office indicted Gigi Ugulava on December 18, 2013, in the case of the Tbilisi Development Fund. The case was marred by significant violations, which gave rise to a reasonable suspicion that the prosecution was politically motivated and that its sole purpose was to remove the opposition leader from the political process. Before the 2014 local elections, Gigi Ugulava, while he was head of the opposition party’s electoral headquarters, was arrested and kept in pre-trial detention for more than 9 months without proper cause and in violation of the constitution.
It should be noted, that two of the judges of the Supreme Court who have produced the final verdict have been recently elected by the authorities by means of a vague process. One of them is Shalva Tadumadze, a former personal lawyer of the informal ruler of the country, Bidzina Ivanishvili, the Parliamentary Secretary of the Government of Georgia and the Prosecutor General. Obviously, his involvement is problematic and creates distrusts towards the verdict.
Given that the investigation against Gigi Ugulava started 7 years ago, and in parallel, there is ongoing criminal prosecution against several opposition party leaders, including Irakli Okruashvili, Nika Melia and Mamuka Khazaradze, there is a reasonable doubt that the government uses the criminal prosecution as leverage against the opponents.
The prolonged investigations and trials against opposition party representatives have become a widespread practice. The government appears to be using this method effectively to indirectly pressure its opponents. Gigi Ugulava’s deprivation of liberty may also be a message to other opposition leaders.
Ignoring statements from Western partners
Recently, representatives of Georgia’s partner countries and international organizations have been increasingly pointing out the disturbing trends in the country. Along with the electoral system, Western partners’ statements focus on the problems of independence of the judiciary and the persecution of political opponents. With this decision, the Georgian government once again ignored the country’s interests and the recommendations of its Western partners. The recent actions of the authorities clearly leave the impression of a demonstration of force, and they are becoming increasingly removed from political rationality, thus increasing the threat of nihilism among the population and isolation of the country.
With this step, the government has refused to negotiate with the opposition
It is also important to take into account the general context that exists in the country and the forthcoming election period. Given that active negotiations between the authorities and the opposition have been taking place in the wake of the political crisis in the country, the arrest of one of the leaders of the opposition party is, of course, not an indicator of authorities’ desire to continue negotiations. Such decisions help to radicalize the situation and reduce the resource for dialogue and constructive relations between the different political forces.
This situation once again reveals the issue of the politicization of law enforcement agencies. In light of developments in the Supreme Court late last year, the verdict in the case confirms the influence of the government on the justice system and the tendencies of selective justice. The political bias of the prosecution and judicial system threatens the democratic development of the country, further undermines public confidence in state institutions and the rule of law, and adversely affects the pre-election environment.
In view of all the above discussed, we call on the Georgian authorities, the ruling party and the country’s informal ruler – Bidzina Ivanishvili, to stop applying the selective justice to the opponents and dissenters, to promote a constructive resolution of the political crisis and to prioritize the interests of the population and the country’s development, instead of party interests.
Transparency International Georgia (TIG)
Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI)
International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED)
Georgian Reform Associates
Regional Center for Strategic Studies
Atlantic Council of Georgia
Economic Policy Research Center
Society and Banks
Institute for Democracy and Safe Development (IDSD)
Human Rights Center
Open Society Georgia Foundation
Media Development Foundation