Tbilisi City Court Judge Lasha Chkhikvadze on Friday called on political parties, diplomatic corps, international and non-governmental organisations in Georgia to refrain from “putting pressure” on the Georgian court and allow judges to administer justice in a “peaceful environment”.
Chkhikvadze made the comment as part of remarks alleging pressure from a Member of the European Parliament and a representative of the United States Embassy in Tbilisi over his ruling in May that found Nika Gvaramia, the founder of the opposition-minded Mtavari Arkhi channel, guilty in a case over financial damage caused to Rustavi 2 channel.
The Georgian Public Broadcaster quoted the judge on saying MEP Michael Gahler had put “direct pressure” on the court and “clearly directed the appeals court to clear Gvaramia” in the case, in its hearing coming up next week. Gahler recently told judges in Georgia to “do what is fair, note what you are ordered to”.
In his comments in response to the MEP’s statements, the judge raised the question of whether Gahler would “put this kind of pressure on judges in his own country” and “direct them to make a certain decision on a criminal case”.
Chkhikvadze also alleged interference in the court ruling by Kevin Burke, a representative of the US Embassy from the US Department of Justice. The judge alleged the Embassy official had asked questions about the case and told him the US Ambassador was “wondering why I had approved the guilty verdict in the case, and in particular, the reason for my use of imprisonment as punishment [for Gvaramia]”.
He also said he had perceived the line of questions as the Embassy representative “requesting a report on a specific case”, and added Burk had also notified him about his removal from a list of Georgian judges that had been scheduled to visit the US due to “undesirability of my participation”.
The judge’s statement also included an unspecified claim that “certain political forces are now threatening me with ‘sanctions’ for the ruling of this specific case”, adding he wanted to avoid his colleagues being placed under similar treatment “seeing as how they will clearly have to review the case under open and major pressure”.
Chkhikvadze called on officials, political parties and organisations to “refrain from pressuring the court” and “allow judges to make their decisions based on the Georgian Constitution, law and inner conviction”.
In May, Chkhikvadze found Gvaramia guilty of causing a ₾6,763,509 ($2,239,572/€2,151,266) damage to Rustavi 2 between 2015-2019 through intentional mishandling of advertising deals, and of obtaining property using profits from the actions. The former Director of the channel was sentenced to three years and six months in prison.