Zaza Gakheladze, an illegally detained Georgian citizen who was ‘pardoned’ by the de facto president of the Russian-occupied Georgian region of Tskhinvali (South Ossetia), says he did not expect to be released today.
I really did not expect [be released] today. Thanks to God, our Patriarch [Ilia II] and our government I feel well”, Gakheladze told journalists after crossing the occupation line to the Tbilisi-administered village of Ergneti.
Gakheladze, who was shot and illegally detained by Russian-controlled occupation forces in the summer of 2020, was later sentenced to 12 years and six months in prison by the de facto Supreme Court of the Russian-occupied Tskhinvali region.
Georgian Patriarch Ilia II appealed to the Russian Patriarch Kirill earlier in June to mediate for Gakheladze’s release with the de fato Tskhinvali leadership.
Local Tskhinvali media reports that Gakheladze was pardoned following Kirill's mediation with de facto president Anatoly Bibilov in exchange of “a South Ossetian citizen” V. Gobozov.
Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, who went to Ergneti to welcome Gakheladze, said he is ‘a heroic man’.
Georgian officials have also welcomed the Georgian citizen’s release.
Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani:
????#ZazaGakheladze is released from illegal detention!— David Zalkaliani (@DZalkaliani) July 14, 2021
We welcome t/humanitarian solution of t/issue that further proves important role of #GenevaDiscussions & #IPRMs. ???????? Gov will continue its peaceful efforts 2 ensure release of all other #Georgia|n citizens from illegal custody.
Parliament Speaker Kakha Kuchava:
After being illegally detained for more than a year, Zaza Gakheladze will be back to his family ???? With consistent support of ????????’s strategic partners the occupation will end soon! #OccupationIsTemporary— Kakha Kuchava (@kkuchava) July 14, 2021
Chair of parliamentary foreign relations committee Nikoloz Samkharadze:
Zaza Gakheladze is free!!! I express deepest gratitude to all our international partners who supported us in releasing Gakheladze from Tskhinvali prison.— Nikoloz Samkharadze (@Samkharadze79) July 14, 2021
Ruling Georgian Dream party:
Georgian citizen Zaza Gakheladze, imprisoned by the occupation forces in Russian-occupied “South Ossetia” for over a year now, has been freed by concerted efforts of Georgian authorities and Georgia’s international partners.— Georgian Dream (@GeorgianDream41) July 14, 2021
Russian occupation of Georgian territories should end!
The European Union Monitoring mission has also tweeted:
The mission welcomes with relief the release of Mr. Zaza Gakheladze today, after a year of continuous efforts for this positive outcome, including through the Hotline and extensive discussions within the Ergneti IPRM format.— EUMM Georgia (@EUMMGeorgia) July 14, 2021
The unconditional release of Georgian citizens illegally detained by occupation forces was in the focus of the 101st meeting of the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) held yesterday in Ergneti.