EU-Brokered Deal’s Amnesty Clause Stirs Controversy
Georgian political parties, civil society outfits and the civilians injured during violent dispersal of June 20-21, 2019, anti-occupation protest in Tbilisi, are coming at odds over the June 20 amnesty clauses in the EU-brokered deal, signed by the Georgian Dream and smaller opposition parties on April 19.
The controversial amnesty clause is proposed as one of the mechanisms to release Nika Melia, Chair of the United National Movement party, who remains in pre-trial custody as part of criminal investigations on charges of inciting and leading violence on the June 20-21, 2019 night. While President Salome Zurabishvili is set to pardon pro-opposition Mtavari Arkhi TV shareholder, Giorgi Rurua, another figure regarded as political prisoner by the opposition, pardon cannot apply to Melia, who remains in pretrial detention.
The UNM chair also refuses to post bail, advising others against volunteering to do this for him, and the Court has repeatedly refused to release him from pre-trial custody or use preventive measures other than detention or bail.
„The signatories commit to address, within one week of signing this agreement, the two cases of perceived politicized justice [Melia and Rurua cases], either by an amnesty and/or by taking such steps as to produce an equivalent outcome,“ reads the EU-proposed agreement, adding that „In particular, within one week of signature of the agreement, a party represented in Parliament shall initiate an amnesty law for all violations and convictions stemming from the 19-21 June 2019 protests.”
Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, a CSO representing those affected by June 20-21, 2019 violent dispersal, called on parties to refrain from initiating the bill “extending the amnesty for crimes committed by law enforcers” on the night of protests.
“It is inadmissible to apply amnesty/pardon to serious crimes against human rights committed by state officials, including during inhuman/degrading treatment,” the watchdog said, noting that such move would amount to a violation of Article 3 (prohibiting torture, and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) of the European Convention of Human Rights and be thus in breach of international law.
Also, 11 civilians injured during the dispersal of June 2019 protests addressed European Council President Charles Michel, EU official behind the compromise document, with a request to revise the amnesty provision, noting that the amnesty allows authorities to evade accountability, while opposition politicians have no right to decide on violations committed against them.
Nika Melia himself reportedly opposes the idea of amnesty for the same reasons. Dimitri Sadzaglishvili, Melia’s lawyer, scolded opposition MPs for agreeing the deal without prior consultations with the UNM Chair.
“It [the amnesty] applies to persons who used violence against our youth on the night of June 20, of course, it will be unacceptable,” stated UNM’s Zaal Udumashvili. He noted that those opposition MPs who signed the deal now will have to prepare the amnesty bill so that it does not apply to those responsible for the violence.
To quote Roman Gotsiridze, also from the UNM, the amnesty provision has been added to the deal since releasing Melia or Rurua through bail or other means would not mean terminating the legal prosecution against them.
Shalva Shavgulidze, the opposition politician, who endorsed the April 19 deal and is now working on the amnesty bill, due to be ready by April 27, said they will not allow “closing” the investigations into abuses. Khatuna Samnidze from the Republican Party, who also signed the agreement, noted the bill will include specific articles rather than names, pledging that no amnesty will be envisaged for those that committed grave crimes.
Giorgi Vashadze, leader of Strategy Agmashenebeli party, another signatory, asserted the amnesty will not apply to “eye-gouging” charges – a violation under the ECHR which the MPs “are not allowed to pardon.”
On his part, ruling Georgian Dream party Chairperson, Irakli Kobakhidze was quoted as saying the amnesty should involve everyone that are facing or could face charges for June 20-21 events. “If the amnesty applies to Nika Melia, it should naturally apply to someone else who may have committed a crime that night,” also given that the UNM Chair engaged in “the most serious crime,” MP Kobakhidze was quoted as saying in media.
Investigation into the fact of exceeding official powers by law enforcement officers on June 20-21, 2019 night was launched on June 24, 2019. A total of three law enforcement officers have been charged. All three have been released on bail already in 2019.
As for protesters part, besides Melia, 18 others were charged or convicted for inciting and participating in group violence on June 20-21, 2019 night. Among them is Irakli Okruashvili, former Defense Minister and leader of opposition Victorious Georgia party, who was sentenced in April 2020 to five years in jail over the case. Okruashvili was in May 2020 pardoned by President Zurabishvili, to defuse disagreement stemming from diverging readings of previous, March 8, 2020 accord between the GD government and opposition. Opposition then maintained release of “political prisoners” – Okruashvili, and Rurua among others – was part of the deal. The claim was denied by the Georgian Dream.
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