The European Court of Human Rights, will notify its decision on the case Merabishvili v. Georgia

Published in World
Friday, 10 June 2016 21:58

14 June, the European Court of Human Rights, will notify its decision on the case Merabishvili v. Georgia (no. 72508/13). The decision will be made public around 10h00 Strasbourg time on Tuesday. 

Background on the case: The case concerns the pre-trial detention of a former Prime Minister of Georgia. The applicant, Ivane Merabishvili, is a Georgian national who was born in 1968 and is currently detained in a prison in Tbilisi pending criminal proceedings against him for a number of offences including vote-buying and misappropriation of property. Prior to the parliamentary elections of October 2012, which resulted in a change of power, Mr Merabishvili, one of the leaders of the then ruling party, the United National Movement (UNM),

exercised, for several months in 2012, the function of Prime Minister of Georgia. After the political coalition Georgian Dream had won the parliamentary election of October 2012 and formed a new government, Mr Merabishvili was elected Secretary General of the UNM, which became the major opposition force in the country.

Mr Merabishvili was arrested on 21 May 2013 following the institution against him of three sets of criminal proceedings for using an allegedly fake passport, embezzlement and abuse of authority. On 22 May 2013 an initial court decision, based on Article 205 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, was taken remanding Mr Merabishvili in custody on the grounds that there was a risk that he might abscond or interfere with the investigation. This decision was confirmed on appeal on 25 May 2013.

Subsequently, during a pre-trial session on 25 September 2013, he asked for his pre-trial detention to be replaced by a non-custodial measure of restraint. This request was examined and rejected on the same day, without explanation, in a brief statement given by the trial court judge.

Mr Merabishvili was convicted in February 2014 of the majority of the charges against him, including vote-buying, misappropriation of property and breach of the inviolability of another person’s home and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. The charge of abuse of authority was dismissed.

Mr Merabishvili’s appeal on points of law is currently still pending before the Supreme Court. Four additional sets of criminal proceedings for various offences involving abuse of official authority when he was Minister of the Interior between 2005 and 2012, launched against him between May 2013 and July 2014, are also currently pending against him.

Relying on Article 5 §§ 1, 3 and 4 (right to liberty and security / entitlement to trial within a reasonable time or to release pending trial / right to have lawfulness of detention decided speedily by a court), Mr Merabishvili alleges that the decisions of 22 and 25 May 2013 ordering his pre-trial detention were based on unclear legal rules – notably in that they did not give a specific time-limit for his detention – and lacked reasonable grounds and that the courts failed to carry out a proper judicial review of his request for release in its decision of 25 September 2013.

Further relying on Article 18 (limitation on use of restrictions on rights) taken in conjunction with Article 5 § 1, he alleges that the initiation of criminal proceedings against him and his arrest were used by the authorities to exclude him from the political life of the country, resulting in the weakening of his party, UNM, and preventing him from standing as a candidate in the presidential election of October 2013. He further alleges that this persecution continued during his pre-trial detention when, on 14 December 2013, he was removed from his cell and taken for a late-night meeting with the Chief Public Prosecutor who threatened him in order to obtain information about the death of the former Prime Minister, Zurab Zhvania, and about secret offshore bank accounts of the former President of Georgia. He further claims that, despite informing the authorities of this incident at the first opportunity at a hearing on his case on 17 December 2013, calling upon them to examine video footage from the prison surveillance cameras, no objective or thorough criminal investigation was ever launched into his allegations. Lastly, he emphasises that the international community has expressed concerns over the initiation of criminal proceedings against the leaders of the opposition party, including himself.

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