Democrats Challenge Supreme Court Decisions
The Supreme Court of Georgia and its chairman, Lado Chanturia came recently under heavy fire of the political forces that are considered reformist. In a battle of the words it is hard to discern whether the politicians are driven by self interest, or the pillar of Georgia’s legislature has fallen victim of the retrograde pressures.
The June 25 decision of the Supreme Court which ruled positively on ex-Minister of Economy Vano Chkhartishvili’s libel suit against the Director of the National Library and respected civil activist Levan Berdzenishvili, triggered bitter reaction of the reformist parties and some of the NGOs.
It is one of the first precedents in which the libel case is won by the former state official, and some fear that it would set an unhealthy precedent for the lower instance courts against the background of backlash of the conservative forces.
Chkartishvili, was widely criticized for alleged corruption during his ministerial career. He resigned with the rest of the government amid street protests of November 2001, and together with the ministers of interior and state security was one of the main targets for the protesters. Before that, during one of the government sessions, Justice Minister Mikheil Saakashvili has directly accused Chkhartishvili of corruption.
However, Chkartishvili chose to file the libel suit against Levan Berdzenishvili, who stated in one of the TV interviews that “Chkhartishvili has stolen more than anyone else.” Initially the former minister requested financial compensation for the damages but after the district court turned down his case, appeal to the Supreme Court contained only a request for retraction of statement and public apology.
According to the Supreme Court ruling, Berdzenishvili is now obliged to publicly retract his statements that violate the “dignity and credibility” of the former minister.
“Liberty Institute” – a human rights pressure group – says Chairman of the Court should be held liable for the Court decision that violates the freedom of expression. Chkhartishvili’s lawyer Vakhtang Kobiashvili told Civil Georgia that the Supreme Court has set a good precedent: “moral norms are always important in every country and it should the case in Georgia as well,” he said.
Giga Bokeria, leader of the “Liberty Institute” says the allegations for corruption against Chkhartishvili were so widespread, that the statement of Berdzenishvili could not have done any damage to his reputation. Civil activists consider that only investigation in dealings of the former public official can clear his name.
Chkartishvili told the press that he is ready for investigation and can offer all the materials to the interested parties and conduct an independent audit of his financial documentation. He said, if those interested in investigation can not fund the audit, he would be glad to provide the funds. On the opposing side many considered these statements “cynical” claiming that the former minister could have easily done away with all harmful evidence in the course of past months since November.
Director of the National Library Levan Berdzenishvili says in the meanwhile that the court decision is impossible to fulfill. “The decision of the Supreme Court can not be fulfilled because it requires changing my way of thinking. All right, I can say that Chkhartishvili did not steal more then others did, but I will never change my mind,” Berdzenishvili told Civil Georgia.
Whatever the implications of the specific case are, the Supreme Court has become embroiled in public controversy. The previous decision that affirmed the right of the pro-presidential faction to control the Citizens Union of Georgia instead of an opposition group led by Zurab Zhvania also produced comments on political partiality of the Chairman.
“The Supreme Court has become a tool of violation of the civil rights and in fact serves as an addendum to the executive branch of power,” says independent expert Zurab Chiaberashvili. The Liberty Institute demands the Chairman of the Supreme Court to resign and come up with his position regarding this matter. The NGO claims that Chanturia has to choose between “Chkhartishvili… and the principles of democracy.”
It is clear that current situation can seriously damage the reputation of the top Georgian court for independence and neutrality. The Chairman Chanturia did not, however take any serious leadership in alleviating the doubts cast on court’s rulings.
“Court’s rulings are the only reply of the Supreme Court to these accusations. No further comments on Chkhartishvili-Berdzenishvili or other cases are necessary,” the Court’s press secretary Khatuna Charkviani told Civil Georgia.
By Jaba Devdariani, Salome Jashi, Civil Georgia