Ted Jonas: State Must Effectively Investigate and Prosecute Levan Vasadze

Lawyer takes aim at selective prosecution

Ted Jonas, a Georgian citizen of US descent who has been working in the country for 20-odd years now, practicing law, has filed a complaint to the Prosecutor General’s office, saying Georgia has “unjustifiably failed, or refused, to prosecute Georgian citizen Levan Vasadze for serious criminal acts” by violently encroaching on Constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of opinion and expression of opinion, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly without prior permission, and equal protection  in case of “Tbilisi Pride”.

Civil.ge spoke to Ted Jonas, asking about his motives and objectives.

Q: Ted, why would you file a personal complaint in case that does not concern you directly? Would not it be more logical for the “Tbilisi Pride” organizers to file a civil claim?

Any citizen or person can make a criminal complaint, or inform the prosecutor about a crime or crimes that should be investigated. That is what I am doing here. It’s not my personal claim against Vasadze. It’s my appeal to the prosecutor to enforce the laws against Vasadze, for his criminal acts. This is about the state protecting its interests and pursuing a criminal case. I have no personal case against Vasadze.

“Tbilisi Pride” can certainly file a civil case against Vasadze, or an administrative or civil claim against the MoIA for not protecting their rights.

But the first issue is society’s interest in state actors upholding the law; in the protection of society itself and the public order. According to extensive press reports and public information, Vasadze broke the law and threatened public order. He committed criminal violations. Everyone in society has an interest that serious lawbreakers be be prosecuted. Everyone in society has an interest in the equal protection of the laws and the maintenance of public order.

This is especially true where we have reason to believe that the Georgian state is not providing equal protection by the laws. It is applying law in a biased and unbalanced way.

As I point out in the letter, the prosecutor has not hesitated to bring charges against some 20 people for the events of June 20-21, on flimsy or unclear evidence. Holding people in pre-trial detention without bail, against whom the evidence is very weak – as they did to Bezhan Lortkipanidze – a demonstrator on June 20-21 and a very well-respected member of society, as an environmentalist and veterinarian. And yet, where the evidence is totally clear, of threat to public order, resistance to police, unlawful criminal denial of equal rights, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly – the prosecutor does nothing.

Q: What are you trying to achieve with this complaint?

I would like to achieve what I ask for in the letter: an official prosecutorial investigation into the multiple violations of criminal law that the prosecutor has so far ignored, and vigorous, transparent investigation of the Article 223 violation (illegal armed formation) that the prosecutor supposedly opened an investigation into, but has shown no progress or results.

If the prosecutor fails or refuses to do this, then the letter will have accomplished something else: exposure of the double standards of law that this government is following. They can be more clearly held to account – by international partners and human rights organizations, and by Georgian voters, for not upholding the law. The letter “tees up” the issue – I basically wrote the criminal charges for the prosecutor in the letter. If they fail to pursue investigations and charges, then it clearly reveals their bias and their lack of respect for rule of law.

Q: Human rights watchdogs have long documented Mr. Vasadze’s actions. Why did you think complaining in your personal capacity would make a difference?

While watchdogs have done a good job of monitoring and publicizing Vasadze’s behavior – and I respect them for that – none of them, in my opinion, took action that would make it easy – undeniably easy – for the prosecutor to bring a criminal case.

My letter, by laying out all of his actions as reported in the press – which is in a long annex to the letter – and by specifying all the laws he violated – and by formally requesting the prosecutor to do his job – puts the prosecutor in a much harder position than merely making statements.

I think activists and NGOs in Georgia should more frequently take direct legal and administrative action, rather than just publicizing or demonstrating about issues. My humble opinion. People need to make the law work the way it is supposed to. And when those efforts “fail” – they are rejected or ignored by law enforcement bodies – then we can make their refusal to uphold the law very, very clear. Undeniably clear.

Q: You are bringing up an interesting point about direct legal action – this is something that is rarely practiced in Georgia. Would you say this is because of the tradition of continental law, while your approach is more characteristic to precedent-based systems?

Absolutely right. My take on this – as an activist – is very American. Since the American republic was founded, individuals have used legal cases to set broader precedents on rights. Later on, let’s say from the early 1900s, organizations started to do this – like the American Civil Liberties Union, or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. But you can find individuals filing lawsuits or using their personal criminal cases to set broad precedents on rights in America, going back to the early 1800s.

It’s a method quite connected to the American common law system (more than the English common law), and is much more rare in continental (civil) law systems. In continental systems, people are always looking to the state to behave correctly. In America, we have the assumption that it won’t behave correctly unless you force it in the courts to do so.

I think the American example is quite useful in the continental context as well, and Europeans have been realizing this more and more, to push for rights.

On the same topic: