Saturday, February 4, 2012

What rule of law in Georgia? Kangaroo Courts!

Potemkin Court Adjaria (Batumi7), Kangaroo Courts in Georgia, Rule of Law Stillborn!!!

“Support the US-friendly token head of state, OBEY!”

by John Bradford

Georgia and its political system has proved to have been stillborn since the so-called 2003 Rose Revolution. Much of the anticipated reforms brought about by that revolution have simply evolved into instruments of control without checks and balances: the court system, rule of law and even the reforms in the education system. The people of Georgia are now living in what is effectively a police state, sanctioned by the West. It has little hope that things will improve any time soon and all who can are looking to escape the country.

The following is a summary of what widespread abuses are still in process as of late September 2011, and of how some defendants arrested in a political rally in Batumi on May 21 may end up being sacrificed on the altar of keeping the government of Georgia in place, despite the will of the people and civil society for real democratic change, confirmed by various human rights organisations and media reports. Aside from mission reports, democracy is far from a reality in Georgia.

What has occurred since late May 2011, in Batumi, May, 21 and Tbilisi in particular, on May 26, has demonstrated violent crackdowns on pro-democracy protestors, especially as seen case of the "Batumi 7" constitutes what blatantly appears to a widespread violation of human rights. The use of “scare tactics" and physical violence to deny people the right to assembly is commonplace in Georgia.

It is becoming almost impossible to run active/proactive political parties opposed to the government, as membership of an anti-government party can have all sorts or repercussions – lost of jobs, beatings, arrests and even death.

Guilty pleas are being obtained by threat of violence and arrests are often politically motivated. Lela Dumbadze and Eter Turadze, Editor-in-Chief of local Batumi newspaper “Batumelebi”, reported in June, how Tsotne Ananidze, a 23-year-old graduate student, had been considered ‘dangerous to society’ and sentenced to one month in pre-trial detention, which has continued for four months. His crime was that he had allegedly taken part in a political rally – however, it is now becoming clear that his organizing ability, and membership party, constitute his actual crimes. He is not alone: upwards of 40 persons arrested in late May are still locked up throughout Georgia, awaiting their fate at the hands of a legal system known to be corrupt and under the iron tight grip of the political leaders, not the rule of law; their crimes are that they organized protests, or were bystanders at political street rallies.

The poster child in this war of wills, Tsotne Ananidze, faces two to six years in jail, as do various other so-called offenders; it is only too clear that a verdict is being “cooked up” by main Judge Vera Dolidze and the prosecution at a show trial. The accused were arrested for their involvement in a demonstration organized by the People’s Assembly, an anti-police state Georgian political party, on May 21, 2011 in Batumi. The defense attorney has pleaded before the judge that Ananidze poses no threat to society. However the judge is also a hostage to the political center, like many others judges, and the Georgian United National Movement, as hers will have to be a political decision, not one based on Georgian legislation or any international standard of basic human rights.

Many Georgians have taken an interest in attending Ananidze’s legal proceedings, although they are fearful of what may happen if they do - loss of jobs, pressure, blacklisting. Some have not been allowed to enter the courtroom due to a lack of seating, which appears to have been an intentional move on the part of the court. To add injury to insult, and without making any reference to the legal code which could justify such an arbitrary ruling, Batumi Judge Dolidze has warned those who do attend that if someone fails to follow the court rules they will be fined anywhere from 50 to 5,000 Lari, a substantial amount in such a poor country as Georgia, where 50 percent live below the poverty line.
Prosecutor Pridon Kartsivadze’s opening statement recounted how Ananidze had resisted the police (contravening Article 353, Part Two, of the criminal code ), and was trying to use force against the Adjara TV station (Article 222, Part Two). He said that on May 21 at 18:30, a group of demonstrators organized by the People’s Assembly,  a political party, had relocated their rally to the entrance to the Adjara TV station. Tsotne Ananaidze and others, the 19 people first arrested, had conspired to use force against the station as part of an attempt to overthrow the [legally elected] Government of Georgia. The prosecutor claimed that during the May 21 demonstration the actions of Ananidze and others resulted in police being injured and access to the TV station being blocked and then proceeded to list the names of approximately 30 people who would be called upon to prove this grave accusation. Among these are Tsira Surmanidze (journalist) and Genadi Jashi (cameraman) from the station.

Tsira Surmanidze answered, when asked about the obstruction by “Batumelebi”: “If don’t take in consideration that at 19:00 we were planning to broadcast an event at the Ice Palace, I would not have been prevented from doing my work. [But because of the protest outside] at that time our journalist team was unable to leave the TV station.”

Surmanidze was then asked if the station’s building had another exit, and the head of station explained that there was no alternative entrance, which is not true. Genadi Jashi, who was presented at the City Court to provide evidence in support of the prosecution, refused to comment to “Batumelebi”. He said several times that he had no information about the matter.

The prosecutor stated that Ananidze had to be arrested and held in pretrial detention for a month because he could otherwise escape and hide or become involved in blackmailing and threatening witnesses. He showed that following the May 21 demonstration Ananidze had travelled to Tbilisi and participated in the wave of anti-government [pro-democracy] demonstrations there which had lasted until the government’s violent and deadly crackdown of May 26, 2011.  However, only after he returned to Batumi did Ananidze undergo interrogation and meet criminal defense lawyers, this potential fugitive from justice going of his own accord to the police station. Moreover, as attorney Edisher Makharadze told Judge Dolidze, he also informed criminal officials that he had changed his personal cellphone number and gave them the new one to make it easier for them to get in contact with him.After declaring all these facts to the Judge Makharadze asked Dolidze not to arrest Ananidze before the investigation was complete and Ananidze’s family offered 3,000 lari to the government as a bond to secure his release. Bail was refused.

After discussing other arguments from the two sides the Judge went into Chamber to consider the case. During this time Ananidze’s friends discussed their masters program final projects with him. Within three minutes Dolidze came back to the court and announced that Ananidze had to be arrested, as if instruction had been provided from above. Dolidze did not find it necessary to explain to those present why a politically active person, with close ties to the community, was being taken into custody. This was not a normal procedure. The Judge even told Ananidze, addressing him as Tsotne, that  if the government proved its accusations, reciting the various articles they were being made under and outlining the law on combining punishments, he would be going to prison for a long time.

Dolidze is among the many judges in Georgia who over recent years have found almost no one innocent. 7 persons:  David Partenadze, Vakhtang Sioridze, Anzor Solomonidze, Gocha Mukhashavria, Dima Cheishvili, Khvicha Gamarjobadze, and Tariel Putkaradze, were in court answering the charge of ‘preventing employees entering  Adjara TV station’ on May 21. One of these, Taria Putkaradze, admitted the claimed guilt and was allowed to walk free from the Batumi court in return for giving evidence against the others. According to the attorney of those who were arrested he had no other option. However, the remaining defendants refused to plead guilty to what they consider to be a trumped up charge.

Various attorneys are now representing those arrested, including two court appointed attorneys. They have collectively and put forth a motion of recusal concerning the judges in the case, including Tamar Bezanishvili. A further motion of recusal was put forth concerning prosecutors Pridon Kacivadze and Ramaz Shavadze, stating that they should be disqualified from acting due to their “violation of the fundamental human rights of the defendants.” This motion was based on their violation of the internationally accepted principle of “presumed innocent until proven guilty” which applies with any defendant.  

Seldom are defendants in Georgia allowed the presumption of innocence, as the 99 plus conviction rate confirms, and accepting payments for letting people out of jail has become a cottage industry for the government. The conviction rate mirrors that of North Korea, perhaps even higher,

Even aside from this, it is evident that the Batumi court has already decided this case. The offenders are presumed guilty from the very start, and this trial is a show designed to satisfy the international community that Georgia is a democratic country where the rule of law prevails.  Few close to the situation have any hope that justice will prevail, and understood this before the court proceedings started and even before they were arrested.
The defense attorneys maintain that it is impossible for two different prosecutors to make the same mistake of using the term guilty before the case has been heardunless it is intentional …. “They had a motive in mind in interpreting the law,” they alleged. The Chief Judge did not accept their motion because she said that their “arguments” were invalid.

Whether the arrests made on or about May 21 were “legal” and “justified” in the first place is also in question. In any other counry, even in the Third World, an arrested person is granted the fundamental right of being informed on the spot why they are being arrested, not told   that “as written in the warrant” they are guilty. The defendants should also have been notified of their legal rights. According to the police report of the arrest all those taken into custody had been physically present at the place stipulated in the warrant, therefore entitled to this notification.  Consequently, for procedural reasons alone, they should be freed immediately due to this the failure to follow the most basic standards of due process.
The main judge, Dolidze found advocate Ramin Papidze’s recusal statement contempt of court and fined him 500 lari for making it. “You don’t properly understand human rights and you limit my freedom of speech, which is guaranteed by the Georgian Constitution. You lack legal competence, which  is why I request that there be recusal of you,” he responded.  

Another judge, Bezanishvili, must had known the law a bit better and appears to have anticipated the proffered petition of disqualificatio, based on the grounds of possible bias or conflict of interests. She stated that such a petition of recusal was to be expected when “such kinds of attorneys” are involved. Papidze then asked the main judge to explain what “such kinds of attorneys” meant. Even before court proceedings began Tamar Bezanishvili had fined Papidze 1,500 lari. Many of the attorneys are working pro bono because their clients cannot afford legal representation.

Irakli Shavadze, another attorney, asked to be allowed to record the court proceedings independently,  which is allowed under Georgian law. According to the advocates the recording now taking place is inexact and this impacts upon the proceedings. As expected, the main judge would not accept this. “The court does not have a duty to do this” explained Bezanishvili, who also refused to consider the same request from Batumelebi).
Only Tariel Putkaridze, out of fear or some other motivation, pleaded guilty to the alleged crime. Davit Partenadze claimed that he was innocent but now regrets “being in proximity to the Adjara TV station.”  Dima Cheishvili, Gocha Mukhashavria and Anzor Solomonidze continue to exercise their right to remain silent but maintain their innocence. ”If someone shows me a video of me participating in the demonstration I will take responsibility for it.  I was near the Adjara TV station, but if this is a crime there are 4,000 more criminals walking the streets who must be arrested too,” said Mukhashavria.

Vakhtang Sioridze request that the judge show some mercy: “I am a second category disabled person, I have two small children and a wife at home who is very sick, please show me some clemency.” During pre-trial consultations the attorneys also drew attention to the discrepancies between the times detailed in the arrest reports and the actual times at which their clients had been detained.  They also challenged other alleged details in the evidence which would be used by the authorities to try and prove their clients guilty. They claim that these differences support claims that their clients were arrested on political grounds.

The author of this article, after much debate and soul searching, attended some of the court proceedings, in some cases when some of the 7 defendants were present. It became apparent that Georgian court proceedings are carried out in a manner which makes Nelson Mandela's hardships look like a slap on the wrist.  The same is happening in other regions of Georgia: witness the arrest of an English school teacher from Pankisi, a valley in East Georgia inhabited by ethnic Chechens, on what appears to be a trumped-up drug charge, or rather yet another device to install the fear of “G-d” [Misha] in the hearts and minds of the Georgian people.

Some of the 19 arrested in Batumi have given firsthand accounts of how they are their co-defendants were subjected to periods with no food or clean water and no contact with anyone on the outside in an attempt to break them down.  They were forced to stand day and night without sitting, for long periods, and not allowed to lie down to sleep. They were then forced to sleep in unclean cells and the food and clean bottled water brought to them was eaten by their guards; they were tortured, in other words.

Here is a plea from the mother of one of those facing from two to seven years:

Mothers innermost thoughts, Tamar Solomonidze

Please, I ask you for your attention.
I am asking various government and non-governmental structures, please pay attention to me. I am a mother of Anzor Solomonidze, I worry over the arrest of my guiltless son at the demonstration on May 21 in Batumi. In all democratic countries such demonstrations happen, but in some countries people get arrested. If a person is talented and wants to use his talent to benefit his country why should he be punished because of it? There is no  law against this. This is a violation of human rights.
I have many children; I also have a heart problem and I ask you to discharge my son, as he is not guilty, all the accusations against him are false, he is innocent. When he was at school, I heard only praise from his teachers, he finished Tbilisi Leselidze school with higher grades, he has been raised in a police family and his father died for the country. Where is justice?
I also have a mentally disabled child. He needs care and Anzor was taking care of him, he was taking care of his brother and all his family.  I want to ask you to tell everyone about this, please help me, don’t send me to hell , I am already a tortured and ill mother, I have no financial support and only a pension, which is not enough to even buy some medicine. Don’t force me to suicide, my son has children and they need care and support, don’t destroy their future, they need their parents, especially now.
Please take into consideration my request, God bless all who will help us
Tortured and destroyed Mother Tamar Solomonidze
Anzor Solomonidze

If you want to help them, please contact this woman’s son
593 209 230 –David Solomonidze

Summary based on statements from family members and others:

1) They are now being made examples of, "scapegoats", to make other Georgians fearful of standing up for their protected rights.

2) These seven young men are truly Georgian heroes, and may their suffering be a flickering beacon of hope for a brighter future in a united, independent and prosperous Georgia.

3) It appears that the mainstream Georgia media has forgotten about the Batumi 7, (now political prisoners), thanks in part to love of money from foreign sources/central government, fear of the central government, or a combination of these.

This is much like the situation in Azerbaijan, Iraq, Israel and Libya. The lawlessness that reigns in all regions of Georgia must end once and for all. Otherwise there is little chance of being able to support any claim that Georgians are a free and civilized people. Somehow we must try to do something to help one another. Nobody ever expected there to be interest in the problem of the Batumi 7, (seven men still in jail after being arrested on May 21, for allegations of blocking the entrance to a TV station and throwing stones).

… there is so much lawlessness, carelessness, criminal negligence around, and more crime is being carried out by the so-called judicial authorities. We cannot be surprised that the so-called “shiny new” police force is the same as the one which existed before the 2003 Rose Revolution. The Batumi 7 are young people who sincerely love their country and are struggling for a normal life, while the prosecution witnesses are Revaz Ninidze, Shota Giorgadze and David Rizhvadze - all three detectives - who are beholden to the Chief of Police of Batumi and both the new and old corrupt system.

All three witnesses are from the cadre of old system police officers who served during the time of Aslan Abashidze, who ran a small fiefdom in the Georgian region of Adjara. They were all ardent defenders of the regime, active participants in the dispersal of “anti-abashidzevskih” rallies, beating up the people who supported the 2003 Rose Revolution or demanded their right as Georgian citizens to return Adjaria to the central control in Tbilisi in 2004. All three apparently gave false testimony in court about G. Mukhashavria and D. Cheishvili being in front of the TV station; they were not there! All three men gave false testimony against Solomonidze, Gamardzhobadze, Turmanidze and Sioridze, claiming that they had been beaten by them, an allegation shown by video tapes by other witnesses not to be true. There is even a video recording of the events of that day which the hanging -judge [Dolidze] refuses to accept!

Here is the legal process the Georgian people have after all the reforms!! For such a category of officers to exist in the so-called reformed police, which largely owes its own existence to the support of the European taxpayer and the American people, who continue to turn a blind eye to all that is transpiring in Georgia, is plainly unacceptable.
End Note

I started investigating this case for a friend (Temuri) who was also arrested in Batumi along with the Batumi 7 on May 21. However, he was subsequently released after 45 days in detention, perhaps due to his age or possible PR in his support.

I am now of the opinion that my friend and these young people were really “suckered in”, (perhaps naïve at best). I blasted him in an email when he tied to defend his Nino, attacking me for not doing enough to help them share their story. I was told that anyone against her is against Georgia, and I was against her because I had not written some positive things.  

I quickly responded, “what she is doing for these young men, it is not as if she cannot afford to get them normal attorneys - it now appears that she just used them and then threw them away, leaving them to rot in jail.” However, these young boys did set themselves up a bit (and fell for the bait); I have no doubt of their innocence, other than of the non-crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  

Nonetheless, with things heating up in Pakistan and elsewhere on the map of US strategic interests, Iran, etc, you are going to see lots of defense contractors (Archangel and Cubic types) walking the streets of Georgia soon in the countdown to war or US Elections 2012. That’s why no political changes are needed in Georgia, (at least not unknown political parties making gains and people demanding too much civil society), and their is going to be continuity of policy - the names and faces may change but the same game is being played.

The message is clear, “Support the US-friendly token head of state, OBEY!”

“At this point I think the real story here is not so much the (criminal) justice system but more about how Georgian politicians lead people into battle and then don't do anything to help those who are arrested! May is long in the past and everyone seems to have taken the summer off and forgotten about their party supporters. Those activists should be protesting in front of the courts and other places until there is no one else to arrest. That would put real pressure on the government and aid their cause [just or not].

Nino Burjanadze, head of the United Democratic Movement,  was used, intentionally or otherwise, to destroy the larger opposition camp and put the fear of Misha into the people. “Nino, why should anyone trust you now?

-- - Does exactly what it says on the tin

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