Georgian FM: State Department’s sanctioning of Georgian judges “lacking evidence”, “completely incomprehensible and unacceptable”

  • Georgian Foreign Minister Ilia Darchiashvili on Thursday addressed his American counterpart Anthony Blinken with a letter following the Department of State’s public sanctioning of four Georgian judges under the visa restrictions authority. Photo: MFA of Georgia, 6 Apr 2023 - 18:39, Tbilisi,Georgia

Georgian Foreign Minister Ilia Darchiashvili on Thursday addressed his American counterpart Anthony Blinken with a letter following the Department of State’s public sanctioning of four Georgian judges under the visa restrictions authority.

The letter followed the sanctions on Mikheil Chinchaladze, Levan Murusidze, Irakli Shengelia and Valerian Tsertsvadze for “involvement in significant corruption”, with the ruling saying the judges had “abused their positions as court chairmen and members of Georgia’s High Council of Justice, undermining the rule of law and the public’s faith in Georgia’s judicial system”.

In his letter, Darchiashvili said the decision lacked “any evidence” and was “completely incomprehensible and unacceptable”. 

We express hope that the State Department will provide relevant evidence or reconsider its decision. Otherwise, the Georgian state and the Georgian people will perceive this as pressure exerted on the independent judiciary of a sovereign state and as a gross interference in its activities, which will be deemed detrimental to the long-standing friendly relations between Georgia and the USA”, Darchiashvili said. 

Darchiashvili also cited the “most dire” legacy inherited by the ruling Georgian Dream party in the judiciary in 2012 when it assumed power. 

The reality on the ground was indeed grave: the court system had effectively been incorporated into the prosecution as its sub-division, transforming it into another link in the repressive machine of the authoritarian regime in place at the time; over 99 percent of cases heard ended in convictions; more than 300 thousand citizens were tried in court; elite corruption was permeating the judiciary as well as other spheres, the authorities were committing systemic crime”, he noted. 

“Under the conditions of an unjust and repressive judiciary the prison population swelled to 25 thousand, while the practice of systemic torture and inhumane treatment towards those incarcerated became rampant. As a result, the mortality rate among the incarcerated reached unprecedentedly high levels. After the Georgian Dream party assumed power, the number of prisoners decreased two and a half times. The mortality rate plummeted tenfold. Additionally, after assumption of power by the Georgian Dream, pre-trial detentions decreased threefold, administrative convictions decreased threefold, the number of accepted motions for investigative actions halved, bail rulings decreased 20-fold, number of fines issued decreased fivefold”, Darchiashvili continued.

The top Georgian diplomat stressed Georgian citizens had been “unable to find justice” within the state under the United National Movement Government and its court system, and had to resort to appealing to the European Court of Human Rights. 

During the period from 2004-2012 the Strasbourg Court received 5,416 applications from Georgia. As a comparison, during the period from 2013-2022 the same indicator decreased to 1,132 cases. From 2009-2012 the European Court heard approximately 4,000 applications against Georgia. As of 2023 only 147 such cases are pending, which is the best indicator since Georgia has become the member of the Council of Europe. It is noteworthy, that under the previous administration the key figures responsible for creation and construction of a criminal judiciary - [President] Mikheil Saakashvili and [Prosecutor General] Zurab Adeishvili - have not been sanctioned by any state. Furthermore, regrettably, they enjoyed and still enjoy guarantees of personal immunity”, he said.

“The stark drop in the number of appeals to the Strasbourg court, as well as the aforementioned statistical data, clearly indicate that systemic problems were eradicated in Georgian judiciary after 2012, which is the direct result of the political will, as well as the four waves of judiciary reforms implemented by the Georgian Dream. Georgian citizens are now able to effectively protect their rights within the Georgian state. The judiciary has become functional and today it provides the opportunity to effectively defend one’s rights”, Darchiashvili noted.

He also noted the Government had “repeatedly appealed” to critics of Georgia's current judicial system to identify specific court cases that they believe have been ruled unfairly. 

However, critics have so far failed to present any evidence of such rulings. A striking example of bias by the critics of the judicial system is the decision of the Strasbourg Court in the case of the Rustavi 2 TV channel. The ruling states that, on the contrary, Nika Gvaramia, the then general director of Rustavi 2, exerted pressure on the court. The ruling notes that groundless attacks in the media perpetrated by the director general of Rustavi 2 against the judge can be regarded as an unlawful attempt to influence the decision of the court, and these attacks in general can contribute to undermining the authority of the judiciary”, Darchiashvili continued. 

He also alleged representatives of domestic opposition parties, non-governmental organisations, opposition-owned media outlets, former President [Mikheil Saakashvili] and former Public Defender of the country [Nino Lomjaria], as well as individual representatives of the diplomatic corps had “actively participated” in an attempt to damage the reputation of the court system in connection with the Rustavi 2 case.

The Georgian court is perceived as one of the most advanced one by the citizens of Georgia and by international research. According to the IPSOS FRANCE survey [‘Assessment of Judicial Reforms in Georgia’], 55 percent of the population of Georgia think that the court is fair, 52 percent express trust in the court, and 51 percent think that the court is independent. Because of the Government's 10-year work and implemented reforms, Georgia ranks high in international rankings. In the 2022 index of the rule of law of the World Justice Project, Georgia ranks number one in the Eastern European and Central Asian region”, Darchiashvili stressed.

“According to the Corruption Perception Index of 2022, Georgia is the leader in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region, for the first time in the history of the index, Georgia is among the top 20 countries in Europe and ahead of 11 EU member states. At the same time, work on judicial reform continues with the Venice Commission to further strengthen the independence and transparency of the judiciary and to make the legislation even more complete”, he concluded in the letter.