Did Georgian prosecutors try to intimidate a jailed ex-prime minister? This question has been on many people’s lips in Georgia, after Vano Merabishvili claimed that the country's general prosecutor threatened to cause him health problems and arrest his friends and relatives unless he testified against ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili.
The coalition routinely denies the charges, but that doesn't stop them from coming.
Merabishvili claims that on December 14 he was taken from his prison cell, and blindfolded with a jacket, to meet General Prosecutor Otar Partskhaladze. The prosecutor allegedly requested that Merabishvili provide evidence of Saakashvili’s personal involvement in corruption and also offer leads about the mysterious 2005 death of the late Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania. Otherwise, Merabishvili recounted, he was threatened that his own health would be compromised and his friends would face persecution.
The minister for prisons, Sozar Subari, claimed that Merabishvili was not taken from his prison cell on the day in question. In response, Merabishvili’s lawyers and members of the United National Movement have demanded the release of CCTV camera footage, but top officials, including Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili, said the government has more important things to do than to launch a probe into what they term preposterous claims.
The ombudsman’s office and rights groups, though, have requested the authorities to investigate the allegations. The Georgian Young Lawyers' Association, a respected local civil-rights watchdog, said that grounds exist to start an investigation.
But Merabishvili is not getting much public sympathy.
Georgia had one of the world’s highest rates of incarceration during Merabishvili’s tenure, and police and prison officials were widely accused of wringing confessions from detainees by any means possible.
Yet, widespread as the accusations against Merabishvili were in the past, government prosecutors have failed to prove anything so far despite presenting the court with a mouth-dropping number of witnesses -- almost 4,000 people.
The UNM charges that Merabishvili has been kept in prison just to keep the harder core among the Georgian Dream’s voters entertained. Many key members of the UNM and the only remaining high-ranking official from the political minority, Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava, faced fresh embezzlement charges this week, as well.
While these political fights come with much talk about "restoring justice," the concept, as yet, remains undefined in Georgia. Is it about keeping certain constituents happy or is it about ensuring the rule of law for everyone, the most unpopular characters included?