The Ruling of the Supreme Court on Ugulava’s Case Is A Continuation of Political Persecution
We, the undersigned organizations, are responding to the ruling made by the Supreme Court on February 10, 2020 in the case against Gigi Ugulava. The opposition leader was sentenced to three years, two months and eight days in prison. We consider that the ruling is a continuation of the government’s political persecution of the opposition and that it is problematic due to a number of reasons:
- The case against Gigi Ugulava was carried out at the backdrop of significant violations
Gigi Ugulava was indicted on charges related to the Tbilisi Development Fund case on December 18, 2013. The case had a number of significant violations, which raised reasonable suspicions that the criminal prosecution was politically motivated and that its sole purpose was to remove the leader of the opposition from political processes. Prior to the local self-government elections in 2014, when Gigi Ugulava was the head of the election HQ of an opposition party, he was arrested and placed in pre-trial detention for over 9 months. The decision to hold him in pre-trial detention in such circumstances was not justified and represented a violation of the Constitution.
It is noteworthy that the two judges of the Supreme Court, who have delivered the final ruling, have recently been selected by the government through an obscure process. One of them is Shalva Tadumadze, who used to serve as the Parliamentary Secretary of the Georgian Government, held the position of the Prosecutor General of Georgia and is also the former private lawyer of the country’s informal ruler, Bidzina Ivanishvili.
Considering the fact that the investigation against Gigi Ugulava was launched seven years ago, and that a number of other opposition leaders – Irakli Okruashvili, Nika Melia, and Mamuka Khazaradze – are also currently being criminally prosecuted, there is a reasonable suspicion that the government is using criminal prosecution as a lever of influence against its opponents.
The time-consuming investigation against the representatives of political parties and the processes within the court have become widespread. As it seems, the government is effectively using this method as an indirect way to exert pressure on its opponents. The imprisonment of Gigi Ugulava is likely a message to other political parties.
- Ignoring the statements of Western allies
As of late the representatives of Georgia’s partner countries and international organizations have been noting the alarming trends occurring in the country. In addition to the election system, Western allies have paid particular attention to the existing problems related to the independence of the judiciary and the Prosecutor’s Office and the political persecution of opponents. With the recent ruling, the government once again neglected the country’s interests and the recommendations of the Western allies. The recent actions of the authorities leave the impression that it is demonstrating its power and it is increasingly falling short of political rationality. This, in turn, raises the risks of the country’s isolation and nihilism in the public.
- The Government Has Declined Talks with the Opposition
It is important to take into account the country’s political environment and the upcoming electoral period. The arrest of one of the leaders of an opposition party at the backdrop of active talks between the government and the opposition is undoubtedly indicative of the authorities’ unwillingness to continue talks on finding a resolution to the political crisis in the country. Decisions such as this support the radicalization of the crisis and reduces the possibility of constructive dialogue and relationship between different political forces.
This once again reinforces the issue of politicization of law enforcement agencies. Given the events in the Supreme Court that unfolded at the end of the last year, the ruling on this case confirms the trends of selective justice and the government’s influence on the judiciary. The political bias of the Prosecutor’s Office and the judiciary endangers the country’s democratic development, further decreases public trust in state institutions and the rule of law, and has a negative effect on the election environment.
Given all of the above, we call on the Government of Georgia, the ruling party and the country’s informal ruler - Bidzina Ivanishvili - to cease the use of selective justice against opponents and people with different views, to contribute to the solution of the political crisis in a constructive manner, and to prioritize public and state interests instead of party interests.
Transparency International Georgia (TIG)
Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI)
International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED)
Georgia's Reforms Associates
Center for Strategic Research and Development of Georgia
Atlantic Council of Georgia
The Economic Policy Research Center
Society and Banks
Institute for Democracy and Safe Development (IDSD)
Human Rights Center
Open Society – Georgia Foundation
Media Development Foundation