The Georgian president is again under fire – this time, for her approach to the pardon of convicts
Two weeks ago, Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili pardoned 34 prisoners. The list of names is secret, but now it has become public that two of them were convicted murderers.
One killed a 22-year-old policeman, the other killed an 18-year-old student.
Story 1: On December 27, 2014 in Batumi at the Pegasus nightclub 22-year-old policeman Tamaz Mukbakiani was shot by his own service weapon.
The Batumi city court convicted Ramaz Devadze of aggravated murder and sentenced him to 12 years in prison.
Initially, Devadze and his friends started a fight with citizens of Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan at the night club. Mukbakiani asked them to calm down, after which Devadze and the company brutally beat the policeman.
After that, Devadze took the service weapon from the policeman and shot him on the spot with a shot to the head.
Just five and a half years later, the Georgian president pardoned him.
Story 2: On October 27, 2004, at about seven in the evening in the centre of Tbilisi on Pekini Avenue, 18-year-old David Otkhmezuri was stabbed to death.
12 years later, Aslan Bezhanidze, who had been announced wanted for this murder, was detained and convicted. The investigation revealed that the cause of the conflict was a mobile phone, which Bezhanidze was trying to take from Otkhmezuri. Bezhanidze hid from the law for 12 years. He was arrested only in March 2016, and sentenced to six years and nine months in prison.
After three and a half years, Bezhanidze was pardoned by the President of Georgia.
These are just two high-profile cases of the president’s pardon of prisoners who have become known to the public.
“I won’t say why”
On August 28, on the holiday of Mariamoba (Assumption), the president pardoned 34 prisoners. It is not known who exactly because the list has been kept secret. It was only known that among the pardoned there were eight women and one minor.
But despite the confidentiality of the lists, these two stories have been brought into the open by the media.
The public has reacted very harshly to the president’s pardon of two brutal killers. At the same time, representatives of the authorities have joined in the opposition’s criticism of Zurabishvili.
“I think the wrong decisions have been made. It is impossible for the president or anyone in such matters to act solely at their own discretion”, said the leader of the parliamentary majority, Gia Volsky, commenting on the event.
Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze called the pardons “unacceptable.”
Minister of the Interior Vakhtang Gomelauri used the same definitions to comment on the pardon of a police killer.
According to the legislation of Georgia, the president has the right to single-handedly resolve the issue of any prisoner’s appeal for a pardon, despite the gravity of the crime and the sentence already served.
Moreover, the president is not obliged to explain the reasons for their decision or to disclose the criteria used while approaching cases.
Salome Zurabishvili, known for her firm stance in talking to journalists, has used this part of the law “effectively”:
“Why I decided to pardon them – I won’t tell you anything about this. This is the president’s legal right, and any lawyer or non-lawyer is well aware of this. And it was only right now that it was necessary to raise excitement when there was so much positive in what happened”, Zurabishvili told reporters on August 29.
But after she was criticised by members of the parliamentary majority and government for pardoning the killer of the policeman, the president changed her tone and said that “it would be good to improve the pardon system.”
The president’s administration is not fielding questions from reporters about the pardons.
On the website of the pardon commission, the latest information is dated October 2018, when Giorgi Margvelashvili was president. There were also a number of questions concerning the pardon system under ex-president Giorgi Margvelashvili – several people who were pardoned committed serious crimes after their release.
Some members of the opposition believe that those who committed serious crimes were pardoned because of corruption schemes or because their pardon was in somebody’s interest.
Roman Gotsiridze, a member of the United National Movement, suggests that the president, when making the above-mentioned scandalous decisions, could have been influenced by some people.
The MP believes that the case should be thoroughly investigated.