The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled that Georgia violated the rights of former Prime Minister Ivan “Vano” Merabishvili, who is currently in prison serving four sentences.
Merabishvili was a leading figure in Georgia’s 2003 Rose Revolution and a long-time ally of Mikhail Saakashvili. The ruling is a partial vindication for the former country's former leadership, which has claimed that the new regime has pursued politically motivated prosecutions against them.
On November 28, the ECtHR issued a decision finding that Georgian authorities had violated Merabishvili’s rights during his pretrial detention, and ordered the government to pay him 4,000 Euros ($4,800) in damages. The court, however, upheld the initial detention, which Merabishvili also had contested.
“The initially justified preliminary detention of the former Georgian Prime Minister was later unjustifiably used as a means of exerting pressure on him,” the Strasbourg Court ruled.
Merabishvili’s lawyer, Otar Kakhidze, praised the court's ruling at a press briefing, comparing his client with other well known political prisoners in the region.
“The Court upheld the violation of Article 18, this is a well-known article that dealt with the affairs of prominent political prisoners – Yulia Tymoshenko and Yuriy Lutsenko,” Kakhidze said. “I want to appeal to the Georgian authorities: If they want to minimize the damage our national image will receive because of irresponsible legal decisions, let them immediately release Merabishvili.”
Merabishvili served as prime minister and interior minister under the previous United National Movement (UNM) government. He was arrested in May 2013, on charges of misuse of public funds, after the incumbent Georgian Dream (GD) coalition defeated the UNM in 2012 parliamentary elections.
The ECtHR ruling refers to the secret removal of Merabishvili from his place of pre-trial detention on the night of December 14, 2013.
According to Merabishvili, he was taken to a meeting with the country’s chief prosecutor Otar Partskhaladze at the time. The latter allegedly threatened the former Prime Minister.
Merabivshvili has long argued that the pre-trial detention was politically motivated with the goal of hindering his participation in the 2013 presidential elections. But the ECtHR ruling rejected these claims, stating that the Court had found no evidence that Merabishvili’s detention had been intended to remove him from Georgian politics. It did, however, accept his claim that the authorities came to use the detention to apply pressure on Merabishvili to obtain information relating to ex-president Mikhail Saakashvili’s foreign bank accounts.
Merabishvili is currently serving four sentences, including bribing voters, embezzling public funds, abuse of authority in the beating of a former lawmaker, and the falsification of evidence in the murder case of United Bank of Georgia employee Sandro Gurgvliani. Two more cases have recently been brought against him.