Agreement between Georgian authorities and opposition once again under threat as court decides to leave oppositionist behind bars
Giorgi Rurua, a Georgian opposition activist and one of the owners of the opposition television channel Mtavari Archi, will remain in pretrial detention by court order.
This jeopardizes the electoral reform agreement reached between the government and the opposition on March 8, 2020. The opposition insists that the release of political prisoners is an integral part of the agreement.
After the Georgian president pardoned opposition leaders Gigi Ugulava and Irakli Okruashvili on May 15, the release of Giorgi Rurua became the crucial issue for the opposition.
Oppositionists say that without his release, the agreement will be rendered invalid and they will not support the constitutional amendments, which were agreed upon in March of this year.
Nevertheless, at a meeting on May 18, the judge ruled to keep Rurua, who was arrested for illegal possession of weapons, in pre-trial detention.
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The authorities say that the court acts independently in its decisions and the government has no leverage over it.
The opposition parties adopted a joint statement in connection with the Rurua case, in which they stated that the government must fully implement the agreement reached on March 8 and release Giorgi Rurua, otherwise the work on constitutional amendments will not begin.
Representatives of the authorities, for their part, accuse the opposition of a possible breakdown in the agreement on constitutional changes.
What does the election agreement between the opposition and the government mean?
On March 8, 2020, government and opposition officials, mediated by Western diplomats, signed a memorandum of understanding at the U.S. Embassy. It was meant to be a way out of the many months of political crisis and confrontation caused by the ruling party’s refusal to fulfill its own promise to switch the parliamentary elections to a fully proportional system.
The main point of the agreement is to change the electoral system so that 120 deputies are elected from party lists (instead of the current 77), and 30 from the majority single-member constituencies (now 73).
The text of the memorandum mentions, in diplomatic terms, the need to avoid using the court for political purposes. The opposition claims that a verbal agreement was reached on the release of political prisoners.
However, the ruling Georgian Dream Party denies this, saying that there are no political prisoners in Georgia.
For his part, Jim Risch, chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and his deputy senator Gene Shahin, after pardoning Georgian politicians, made another statement, noting that they are now awaiting the release of George Rurua.
Giorgi Rurua’s case
Giorgi Rurua is one of the founders of the main opposition television channel Mtavari Archi, which was created by the team of the Rustavi 2 television channel after it was transferred to a pro-government businessman by court order.
Rurua also funded the youth movement “Sirtskhvili” (“Shame on you!”), which has organized protests in Tbilisi.
Georgy Rurua was arrested on November 18, 2019, a few hours before the opposition rally, on charges of illegal acquisition and possession of firearms. The prosecution claims that Rurua, who collected weapons and owned hundreds of registered units, discovered an unregistered Makarov pistol. The only witnesses in the case are the police who detained him.
Giorgi Rurua himself does not plead guilty and considers his arrest politically motivated.
After analyzing all the circumstances of the case, the non-governmental organization Transparency International Georgia notes that when Rurua was detained, the requirements of the Code of Criminal Procedure were violated and Rurua’s right to defense was violated. The organization says that procedural violations of the case, as well as the conclusion of various investigation, cast doubt on the authenticity of the evidence.