The pardoning of a Georgian convict could cost the Abkhaz President his job
The opposition in Abkhazia is going to convene the People’s Assembly and demand the resignation of the incumbent President Raul Khajimba after he pardoned Giorgi Lukava, leader of the Georgian ‘Forest Brothers’ guerrilla unit.
In 2013 Lukava was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment in Abkhazia. He was charged with a number of grave crimes committed while operating as a member of the Frost Brothers unit immediately after the combat phase of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict in the early 1990s up until the 2000s when the government changed in Georgia and the Forest Brothers ceased to exist.
Lukava was charged with (among others) leading an illegal armed formation, assaulting individuals and organizations and the brutal premeditated murder of seven Abkhaz servicemen during the course of performing their official duties.
On 26 December 2017 the Abkhaz public was surprised to learn post factum that Giorgi Lukava had been extradited to the Georgian side and was already in Tbilisi.
Strong condemnation on social media was followed by a street protest outside the parliament shortly after the new year. A parliamentary commission was urgently set up to offer the public explanations as to why the particularly dangerous criminal, who had been sentenced to 20 years in prison, was granted early release.
Speaking in the Abkhaz Parliament President Khajimba justified his decision to pardon Lukava as follows:
In 2015 he received a letter from the President of South Ossetia requesting his assistance in carrying out a complex prisoner exchange; it was suggested that several Georgian nationals serving their prison sentences in Abkhazia should be exchanged for several South Ossetians who were staying in Georgian prisons.
“We decided to help them and the decision making process was transparent, no one made a secret of it,” said Raul Khajimba.
[su_quote]Time to fight, time to forgive – a South-Ossetian expert on the recent exchange of South Ossetian and Georgian prisoners[/su_quote]
It took the parliamentary committee nearly a week to consider the president’s explanations and study all the circumstances of the case. On 5 January 2018, MP Ilia Gunia read out the committee’s final decision to the crowd directly from the porch of the parliament building.
On the one hand, the committee concluded that it wasn’t entitled to make any legal assessment of the President’s actions and that it was up to the Constitutional Court to do that. However, for the Constitutional Court to get down to work it first needs to be fully staffed as it currently lacks one more judge. Parliament promised that the court would be fully staffed as soon as possible.
On the other hand Parliament recommended that President Khajimba dismiss Daur Arshba, the Head of the President’s Administration.
However, the protesters weren’t satisfied with Parliament’s decision. They did not disperse and started demanding President Khajimba’s resignation.
Raul Khajimba intended to go out to the protesters and personally explain his actions to the people. However, he was met aggressively, booed and whistled at so he returned to the government building accompanied by his body guards. There was a big crowd of policemen and special task force officers defending the entire perimeter of the building.
Initially, the chairman of the parliamentary committee and opposition MP Raul Lolua joined the protesters. He condemned the committee’s decision (which he himself had signed shortly before that) saying that a protest rally would be held continuously outside the government building until Khajimba resigns.
However, later that day Lolua met with the opposition leaders inside the Abkhaz Insurance Company building and changed their plans.
Lolua returned to the protesters at about 1 am. He reported that the opposition was going to convene the People’s Assembly and officially demand President Khajimba’s resignation. Afterwards the street protests stopped.