Dispatch – February 10/11: Beyond Good and Evil

Another Gov’t Reshuffle: More to Come? – Split Reactions as 2020 Hostage Taker Faces Years in Jail – Police Inaction Cases against Femicide Pile Up

In a land where the social life is unfair and courts are unfree, people have trouble figuring out what justice exactly means – or how to apply it. On the other hand, the international rulings continue to point out that the country failed to act where the crime was more than obvious. Here is Nini with usual updates from Georgia.

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SOMETHING LIKE A CHANGE Georgian Government underwent another reshuffle on February 9, when Levan Davitashvili (who previously served as Environment Minister) replaced Natia Turnava as the Economy Minister. His deputy Otar Shamugia will succeed him as the Minister of Environment. Both Turnava and Davitashvili came into the spotlight as key government representatives amid the protests against the construction of the Namakhvani HPP in western Georgia. Ms. Turnava has lately taken pride in what she saw as Georgia’s rapid economic recovery (at least in numbers) after the pandemic-driven recession. She is the second Minister – and the second woman Minister – to quit over the past two months, as the number of women in the cabinet has halved during this period.

MORE TO COME (AND GO) The media rumors persist about more departures, including of Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani, projected to be replaced by Ilia Darchiashvili, currently in charge of the Government Administration. Some also say that Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri may also go or be demoted as a head of State Security Service, while Head of State Protection Service (SSPS) Anzor Chubinidze will be elevated as to take the Interior portfolio. Chubinidze has featured in multiple controversies lately: a couple of days ago, he refused to testify during the court hearing in the case of misappropriation of public funds involving former President Mikheil Saakashvili and Chubinidze’s predecessor Temur Janashia. The defense has claimed that allocation of SSPS funds for purposes that the prosecution sees as illegal has continued after Chubinidze assumed the office in 2013, something that the latter denies (more about the charges here).

Chubinidze, along with Garibashvili, was also caught in the secret recordings controversy where the two allegedly were instructed by Bera Ivanishvili – son of Georgian Dream founder Bidzina Ivanishvili – to intimidate the youngsters in response to social media insults years ago. And lastly, the SSPS head was spotted during the night of the June 20-21, 2019, protest dispersal – which left many injured and two persons half-blind – giving instructions to riot police officers. This led to speculations about who was giving orders during that violent night, even as then-Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia (later promoted as Prime Minister, but now an opposition politician) firmly continues to take the official responsibility.

WHERE IS THE LAW Levan Zurabashvili, a young man who took 19 hostages in the office of a microfinance company in Tbilisi in November 2020, faces 7 years in prison after the Court of Appeals has reduced his first instance sentence by two years. But for the Georgian public, the story looks far more complex than simply the state jailing a bad guy. Armed with a fake grenade, Zurabashvili voiced political demands from the scene: speaking from his own bitter experience, he called for a gambling ban, lowering medication prices, and capping interest rate on bank loans at an annual 7% (here, one of the hostages intervened, telling him that 7% was still too high and he should demand a lower rate). Back then, Georgians were too sensitive about hostage crises – it was only a month earlier that a robber took hostages in a bank office in Zugdidi, Samegrelo, and was able to get away with USD 500,000 ransom. The Zugdidi robber remains at large to this day, while Zurabashvili stays behind the bars.

The convict claims he never intended to harm anybody and used his act to voice the concerns. Believing he did the right thing, he reportedly keeps refusing to plead guilty, something that would significantly reduce his sentence. But his act also divided the public, with some seeing him as a perpetrator who inflicted at least emotional harm on the hostages, while others – sympathizing with him – view him as a desperate man who sacrificed his freedom to draw the attention of elites to the most pressing public concerns. Others remain conflicted about what to think or feel in this particular case. But probably the most frequently voiced concern is that elites on all sides of political life get away with major crimes while many years of jail are easily booked for “common people.”

ANOTHER MINDLESS CRIME Hardly a month passes without a verdict arriving from Strasbourg holding Georgia responsible for inaction that would lead to grave consequences. This time, the European Court of Human Rights delivered a ruling about a young woman murdered by a police officer, who was also a father of her child as two of them had lived in an unregistered marriage before. Before the tragic end, the victim approached law enforcement bodies reporting threats and violence from the former partner, but the police failed to act.

ECtHR held Georgia responsible for a violation of Article 2 (right to life) in substantive and procedural limbs in conjunction with Article 14 of the Convention (discrimination), for a “failure to prevent gender-based violence culminating in murder by a police officer and to investigate the response of law-enforcement authorities,” as well as “passive and even accommodating attitudes of law-enforcement, conducive to proliferating violence against women.” This is not the first such case: it was in July last year that Strasbourg-based court also found the country guilty in a similar femicide case (Tkhelidze v. Georgia) for violating Article 2 in conjunction with Article 14. Both events took place in 2014.

That’s the full lid for today. Join us every Tuesday and Friday for the incisive coverage of Georgia’s political life.