Zaza Khatiashvili: “We Appeal to Head Offices of International Organizations To Declare Saakashvili Persona Non Grata in Europe!”
Chairman of the Georgian Bar Association Zaza Khatiashvili speaks about persecution and detention of lawyers in his interview with the Human Rights Center. According to his information, 142 lawyers have been sentenced so far and their number is increasing every day.
-Mr. Khatiashvili, please share your conclusion and analysis with us – what are the government’s reasons for persecuting and arresting lawyers?
-Mikheil Saakashvili has polluted all fields during his presidency. He attacked TV-Companies and established complete control over them. He tries to destroy anybody interested in developing democratic institutions in the country. So far, he has been unable to establish his control over the Georgian Bar Association and the Trade Union of Culture Workers. He could not appoint his subordinates to these institutions. You see that nowadays the Chamber of Control fines people groundlessly for simple shortcomings. They offered me 1 million Euro in exchange for cancelling my candidacy in the elections for chair of the Bar Association. My statement about the attempted bribery was covered by printed media and television but corresponding institutions did not respond to it for unclear reasons. If I had accepted the bribe, they would have arrested me. How come they did not launch an investigation into who tried to bribe me? Georgian lawyers chose not to give in to the government and instead tried to expose the government’s tactics. . So, we – the lawyers - became the government’s main targets. And now they try to intimidate and destroy us. Today, every lawyer knows that their profession contains some risk. I do not claim that every lawyer is honest in our country but the majority is keen to protect people’s rights. Today, 18 female lawyers are in prison. It is a disaster and it should serve as evidence for lawyers having become the main targets of this regime. If we were to cooperate with the regime, presumably they would release the imprisoned lawyers, but that would mean surrendering to injustice.
-Which particular cases of lawyers’ detention and persecution would you like to pay particular attention?
-Irina Saginadze’s case is very important for us; she has been physically assaulted several times in the last four months. I took her to the hospital and medical experts confirmed signs of physical assault. I petitioned to the Minister of Justice regarding the issue but in vain. He did not respond to my petition.
You might well remember the case of one of the most famous prisoners of the 21st century, Mariana Ivelashvili, who was sentenced for poor legal representation. Our colleagues in Europe protested her imprisonment. A petition banner stating that Ivelashvili was a hostage of the Georgian regime was hoisted in France and signed by 1800 French lawyers. This petition was sent to the G8 leaders and the President of Georgia was compelled to release Ivelashvili from prison.
Lali Jimsherashvili’s case is also important to note. According to her statement, she was locked in a cell for five hours before the interrogation where she was compelled to give discrediting information about the chairman of the Bar Association and other lawyers; then she was threatened with rape. Afterwards, Lali Jimsherashvili left the country; currently she is in Liege, Belgium where she has sought political asylum. I went to Liege and took Jimsherashvili to Brussels for a press-conference where I requested that her rights be defended and persecution of other lawyers in Georgia stopped.
Also, there have been terrible instances of violence in prison. The principle targets of this violence are women and prison personnel use sadist methods to obtain desired testimonies. We are currently looking into 10-15 other cases.
-Have you contacted the diplomatic corps accredited in Georgia and, if so, how do they respond to these facts?
-I met former Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe Thomas Hammarberg and then Per-Enar Enarsson, Desk Officer for Georgia in European External Action Service (EEAS). I updated them about the current situation in our country and introduced our petition to declare President Saakashvili a persona non grata in European states. There are some steps taken in this direction. However, unless civil society assists us, the Bar Association will not be able to achieve the goals alone. The current authority has support in the European Parliament and we would have to launch a large-scale legal campaign against the government. Unfortunately, civil society in Georgia is not very active. If people had fought for their rights more strongly, this regime would not have been so daring.
-Have you contacted international human rights organizations and how do they evaluate this trend in the country?
-I do not recognize any international human rights organizations in Georgia because they all serve the government. Their recent statistics show that 75% of the Georgian population trusts Saakashvili, 73% is pleased with the activities of the judiciary system where feudal lords judge individuals. So, it is useless to apply to them for help. It will be a waste of time. We appealed to the G8 leaders, International Observatory of European Lawyers. The latter visited Georgia three times. In their first remarks they wrote that lawyers are persecuted in Georgia. Next time there was cause for concern, we repeatedly appealed to the International Observatory of European Lawyers. Their representatives arrived again and concluded that that the profession of lawyer is destabilized in Georgia and that lawyers work under permanent fear. The Observatory representatives visited Georgia a third time too; they are currently working on the third conclusion where they will include the case of Malkhaz Arkania who was abused and threatened with rape.
You might remember the protest assembly when we expressed our concern about the oppression lawyers face in Georgia. Despite that, there was no interest in our problems from the EU mission in Georgia. Thus, we have to meet leaders of the head offices of international organizations. We appeal to them directly to declare Saakashvili a persona non grata in Europe. The main purpose of the international organizations’ missions in Georgia seems to be advertising Mikheil Saakashvili’s activities. Nobody can oppose his regime.
-What shall be changed in the law to make lawyers feel more secure in the country?
-First of all the regime has to be changed. Offenders shall be punished, particularly the trio Merabishvili-Adeishvili-Saakashvili. The population would have to desire the restoration of justice and start to fight for it. The Georgian people should then be the judge of these governmental officials who are all responsible for various crimes. The people have to elect a leader instead of relying on one who occupies the position as a result of a state coup. This myth about “a beacon of democracy” has to be dispelled. Only afterwards can we speak about the development of the country.
There are no words to describe how boadiucos this is.
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