Imprisoned Georgian professor seeks Strasbourg court over spying charges

A former Georgian civil servant sentenced to 20 years in prison over charges of spying for Russia claims he is innocent and is ready to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

Vakhtang Maisaia, who holds a PhD and is the former dean of the International Political Relations Faculty at the University of Georgia, was arrested last May. He was locked up on charges of espionage on the behalf of Russia during the Georgian invasion of South Ossetia in August 2008. According to the investigators, the professor disclosed secret information about political, economic and military affairs in Georgia during his stint at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Documents and mails stored on Maisaia’s personal computer were used as evidence against him. Georgia’s law enforcement body released a video of Maisaia’s interrogation with the man allegedly admitting to the crime. In January 2010, Maisaia’s 20-year sentence was handed down.

Mr. Maisaia denies all charges, saying the evidence against him was fabricated. He is ready to appeal the court’s decision.

“We still have hope, of course, if not in Georgia, then in the Strasbourg Court of Human Rights. He is ready to fight until he wins. And he has my full support, since day one,” says Elena, the wife of the former academician.

Elena says her husband was highly critical of Georgia's involvement in the conflict with South Ossetia in 2008.

“He believed our government could have avoided the August 2008 war. He was very vocal about it; he wrote on the subject several times,” says Maisaia’s wife.

Vakhtang Maisaia was arrested on May 5, the day of the mutiny at Mukhrovani military base not far from Tbilisi.

Mr. Maisaia then commentated that he had no doubts that the whole mutiny was just another show staged by the Georgian authorities.

Just hours after that comment he was arrested during a lecture in front of his students and colleagues, and charged with spying for Russia for transferring top secret information on the displacement of Georgian troops.

The former lecturer thinks his case highlights how intolerant the Georgian government is to any dissenting voices.

It is believed there are more than 50 political prisoners are currently held in Georgian jails.

“We have political prisoners in this country. We have a huge number of people who really need independent court and independent judiciary,” said Nino Burdzhanadze, opposition leader.

Opposition leaders claim they are under the ever-watchful eye of Georgia's Interior Ministry.

“Every time we conduct an action such as this one, there are [Minister of Internal Affairs] Merabishvili’s people sitting on top of the building, taking pictures. People can be called in to the police to make statements; afterwards, they can lose their jobs,” added Levan Gachechiladze, another opposition leader.

Given the opposition’s frequent claims of oppression and cases like Maisaia’s, Georgia’s image as a state tolerant of other political opinions remains in doubt.