Thirteen people convicted for plotting a coup in Georgia
Twelve of the accused received prison sentences. Another defendant was given a suspended sentence for giving evidence on behalf of the prosecution. All were among nineteen arrested in dawn raids in 2006. Six were acquitted during the trial.
Melinda Sarafa, defence lawyer
Thankfully, there are courts in the world that have independent judges who respect human rights and dignity, follow the rule of law. And if the rule of law is followed, the presumption of innocence is followed, the burden of proof applied properly, in this case there’s absolutely no question that everyone of these defendants will be ultimately vindicated and the truth will come out.
The defence has already promised to fight the verdict through the Georgian courts, and lawyers are ready to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
The defence says the court hearings, which have been going on since the end of last year, have been a show-trial.
“The verdict was illegal and unfair. The judge did not take into account the defence's convincing evidence. Political trials like this were held in the 1930s 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.
So what do the defendants have in common? They were all supporters of Igor Giorgadze, who was Georgian National Security Service Chief in the mid-1990s. He was accused of attempting to assassinate former President Eduard Shevardnadze and has fled the country.
Living in exile, Igor Giorgadze remains one of the most prominent opposition figures in Georgia. His supporters were accused of planning a coup against President Mikhail Saakashvili.
Police says they found illegal weapons and large amounts of cash in the defendants’ homes. But according to defence lawyers, the case has been fabricated in the best Stalinist traditions and is an embarrassment for the Georgian government.
“There is no question that each one of these defendants is innocent, the supposed plot to overthrow the Government of Georgia never happened,” Melinda Sarafa, defence lawyer, stressed.
Georgia’s President Mikhail Saakashvili
Despite repeated attempts, no one from the Georgian Prosecutors’ Office was available to comment. The defence team says it shows the weakness of the government’s case.
“Do we see the government here talking to the media? No. They cannot face the public, because they know that this case is an embarrassment,” Ms Sarafa noted.
Temur Zhorzholiani was sentenced to seven years in prison. His whole family – wife and nine children – are in shock.
“It’s always a hard thing. You can cope when somebody is punished for what he has done. But when he didn’t even think of anything criminal – it’s very painful,” Lia Zhorzholiani, Temur’s wife, says.
Like many other defendants, Temur was accused of taking part in secret meetings he says he never attended. Four doctors testified that the man was in hospital, diagnosed with a heart attack on the date of the supposed opposition gathering.
The defence is planning to make an appeal. First it has to be reviewed by the same judge, so the defendants are likely to stay behind bars. But their lawyers are ready to fight the verdict no matter how long it takes.
As the verdict was announced on Friday, there was no chance for the defence to take further steps immediately. However, the lawyers are not going to give up.
“Thankfully, there are courts in the world that have independent judges who respect human rights and dignity, follow the rule of law. And if the rule of law is followed, the presumption of innocence is followed, the burden of proof applied properly, in this case there’s absolutely no question that everyone of these defendants will be ultimately vindicated and the truth will come out,” Melinda Sarafa stated.
Georgia’s President Mikhail Saakashvili, who once used to be an opposition leader himself, came to power as a result of the Rose Revolution in 2003. Later, he was elected President and proclaimed democracy one of his main principles.
But now his critics say he is not living up to his promises. The twelve jailed are already being called political prisoners. They refused to attend the verdict which they called unfair.
Since the trial has been closed to the public, Georgians might never know how exactly the coup was planned and what the opposition activists have to say in their defence. And judging by the silence from the government officials, the issue promises to bring more controversy in the coming weeks, and even months.