Op-ed: NGOs on why the investigation of the ‘transfer of territory to Azerbaijan’ is politically motivated
Fourteen of the most authoritative NGOs in Georgia have issued a special statement asserting that the ongoing investigation into the activities of the commission on the demarcation of the Georgian-Azerbaijani border is likely politically motivated.
Two people have already been detained during the process.
Among the signatories of the statement are Transparency International Georgia, the Open Society Foundation, and the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, among others.
“We believe that the timing of the investigation, in the context of the upcoming elections, as well as signs of a selective approach to the investigation and populist statements by the leaders of the ruling party, made in violation of the presumption of innocence, raise suspicions that the investigation is politically motivated”, the statement read.
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On October 8, a Tbilisi court chose a pre-trial detention measure for former members of the state commission on delimitation and demarcation of the state border of Georgia and Azerbaijan Iveri Melashvili and Natalia Ilyicheva.
The investigation claims that members of the state commission on border delimitation and demarcation under President Saakashvili (2004-2013) concealed an important map, which resulted in 3,500 hectares of land belonging to Georgia being transferred to Azerbaijan.
The authors of the statement give three reasons why the case appears to be politically motivated:
1. The timing. The investigation, which concerns an extremely sensitive topic for Georgian citizens, began shortly before the crucial parliamentary elections on October 31.
2. The ruling party rhetoric. After the experts were arrested, the party leaders made politicised and populist statements in violation of the principle of the presumption of innocence, and at a time when the detainees were not even officially charged.
3. A selective approach in the investigation process. The prosecutor’s office says that the accusation concerns the activities of the state commission on delimitation and demarcation of the Georgian-Azerbaijani border in 2005-2007. At that time, current President Salome Zurabishvili was serving as the minister of foreign affairs. During the course of the investigation, no questions have been posed to Zurabishvili.
In addition, representatives of the NGOs believe that, in addition to the context of the upcoming elections, it is also important to clarify the geopolitical, regional context—why did this issue become so important during the escalation of hostilities between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and is there evidence of Russia’s hand in the case?
The NGOs say there’s a clear trace of Russia in the case and give the following arguments:
- Media sources report that the topographical maps on which the prosecution is based were provided by a businessman close to the ministry of defense, David Khidasheli, who is also close to Russian special services.
- This was preceded by statements by pro-Russian politicians. In particular, the leader of the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia, MP Irma Inashvili, at a plenary session of the parliament on June 11, demanded to start an investigation into the transfer of lands to Azerbaijan.
The organizations recommend that the authorities stop “pre-election manipulation of sensitive topics”, investigate the risks of interference by Russian special services in Georgian internal affairs and ensure a fair trial for the experts who were arrested.