Thirteen people convicted for plotting a coup in Georgia
During the trial – which was held behind closed doors – twelve of the accused pleaded not guilty, calling themselves political prisoners. None of the twelve was present in court on Friday to hear the verdict – in protest at the way the case was conducted, according to a party representative.
Of the dozens of opposition supporters arrested, only 13 were charged with plotting a coup.
As a reaction to the verdict, a member of the Georgian opposition, Irina Sarishvili, says the case highlights not just the weakness of the Georgian legal system, but the entire government structure.
“Political prisoners are not the only problem in Georgia. We have so many problems, and so many of them are unsettled. In some cases there’s even no way out. So we demand the resignation of our government,” she said.
The defence, for their part, say they are going to appeal the verdict.
Melinda Sarafa, defence lawyer
This verdict will be appealed until the truth is known and each of these individuals is vindicated. There are courts, including the European Court of Human Rights that do respect the rule of law and do have honest independent judges who care about human rights,
“I’ve personally observed the trial and I think the verdict is shocking. The evidence presented in no way supports the conviction. However, given the notorious lack of independence of Georgian judiciary, this is not surprising at all. Last year 17,000 individuals were convicted in Georgia and only 37 acquitted. Those numbers are staggering,” said Melinda Sarafa, defence lawyer.
“This verdict will be appealed until the truth is known and each of these individuals is vindicated. There are courts, including the European Court of Human Rights that do respect the rule of law and do have honest independent judges who care about human rights,” she added.
“The verdict was illegal and unfair. The judge did not take into account the defence's convincing evidence. Political trials like were held in the thirties in the Soviet Union. It is a disgraceful decision, this verdict will in the future become an example in law school about how to fabricate a political trial,” said defence lawyer Gela Nikoleishvili.
Earlier, another defence lawyer, Lawrence Barcella, spoke against the trial, which he said was “built on lies”.
“The final statements of the defence witnesses and the defence lawyers occurred this week. I have been a lawyer for 37 years – I have been a prosecutor, and I’ve been a defence attorney. I have never seen a case so completely destroyed. I’ve never seen a government prosecution so completely dismantled, as I saw over the course of the past few weeks. It is a case that was built on lies, that was continued with lies, and those lies were all exposed this week. If the courtroom had been open as it should have been – even Saddam Hussein’s trial was open – then everybody would see the lies that we saw,” he said.
Igor Giorgadze, ex-chief of the Georgian National Security Service
The convicted come from across the political spectrum of Georgia's opposition – from Communists to Monarchists. But all share a connection to the ex-chief of the Georgian national Security Service, Igor Giorgadze, who fled the country in the mid-90s after being accused of an attempted assassination of Eduard Shevarnadze in 1995. His guilt was never established.
Despite being in exile, Mr Giorgadze launched an opposition party, which staged loud protests against Mikhail Saakashvili, who became President following the 2003 Rose Revolution.
Mr Giorgadze has denied that he was behind the alleged plot.
“The government is conducting an unbridled, fascist public relations campaign. This isn't only meant to discredit us, but the whole idea of an opposition in Georgia,” stated Igor Giorgadze.
The convicted were arrested on September 6 last year and charged with planning a provocation, which would then lead to a violent suppression by the authorities, with the conspirators taking advantage of the ensuing instability.
The prosecution demanded prison terms of four to nine years for the accused, and a two-year suspended sentence for Maia Nikolaishvili, who had agreed to co-operate with the investigation and has testified.
The proceedings, which started in March, were closed in order “to protect key witnesses”, according to the prosecution. Apart from one, all of the Giorgadze supporters say the case is political, and the evidence was manipulated by the police.