Former defense and interior minister, Bacho Akhalaia, charged with torture, exceeding power and illegal imprisonment, has declined to be tried by jurors.
Rest of the co-defendants into the same case, among them former army chief of staff Giorgi Kalandadze, has also chosen trial by a judge.
A motion requesting for jury trial was filed by the prosecution, but it was declined by the judge after defendants spoke against it.
In January the Parliament amended the criminal procedures code to allow applying jury trials to high-profile cases in which former officials face criminal charges.
Defense lawyers have cited high probability of jurors’ preconceived bias against the defendants as the reasons behind their clients’ decision to choose trial by a judge.
Malkhaz Velijanashvili, a defense lawyer for Bacho Akhalaia, said that the authorities and the prosecution had contributed stirring negative public perception of his client.
“Public attitude has been created as if Bacho Akhalaia is guilty of not only of charges he is facing, but of other crimes as well; he has been portrayed as a very bad person, so every potential juror would have been biased with preconceived notions, so their verdict would not have been objective,” said Akhalaia’s lawyer.
In early November when Akhalaia was arrested and sent to pre-trial detention, he was initially charged with “exceeding official powers” involving an allegation of abuse of soldiers in October, 2011 when he was the defense minister.
He was then charged with “illegal deprivation of freedom” involving an allegation of beating a man and then holding him in illegal confinement for several hours in September, 2011.
Under the torture charges, which were added against Akhalaia in mid-November, he is accused of inhuman treatment of more than dozen of army personnel in February, 2010 when he served as defense minister.
Akhalaia denies charges as politically motivated.
At a preliminary court hearing in the Tbilisi City Court on March 5, the judge declined a motion filed by the defense lawyers during a previous session on March 2, requesting to declare charges against all eight co-dependents (two of which are at large) inadmissible for further trial on the grounds of lack of evidence.
Instead the judge accepted prosecution’s motion requesting launch of the trial on the merits of the criminal case, which has been set for March 18.
Apart of the charges which are being heard at the ongoing trial, the prosecutor’s office has filed additional charges against Akhalaia on March 1 and March 2.
On March 1 prosecutors filed power abuse charges against Akhalaia, claiming that he beat up several inmates when Akhalaia served as prison system chief in March, 2006, which led to a riot in the Tbilisi prison No.5 that claimed the life of seven inmates.
On March 2 prosecutor’s office filed charges against Akhalaia related to torture, inhuman treatment and abuse of power into the case of alleged mistreatment of seven special task force servicemen in August, 2012 when Akhalaia served as interior minister. Prosecutors claim that seven servicemen were subjected to inhuman treatment as “a punishment” for sympathizing Georgian Dream coalition, which at the time was in opposition.
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