Several U.S. Senators made statements expressing concern over the arrest of Georgia’s former PM and secretary general of UNM party Vano Merabishvili.
Merabishvili was arrested on May 21 and charged with abuse of power, misspending/embezzlement and bribing of voters. Ex-healthcare minister and current governor of Kakheti region Zurab Tchiaberashvili was charged along with Merabishvili, but unlike Merabishvili he was released on bail.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio, whom President Saakashvili met during his recent visit to Washington this month, said in a statement on May 24 that he was “deeply concerned” over “what appears to be the politically motivated” detention of Merabishvili.
“The use of pretrial detention in Merabishvili’s case is unnecessary and the government’s efforts to try him in the court of public opinion, rather than through the judicial system, raises questions about the motivations behind his arrest. In the run-up to Georgia’s presidential election in October, it is important that the Georgian government not resort to such tactics and other efforts to intimidate the opposition,” said Senator Rubio, who called on the Obama administration “to speak out clearly in defense of the rule of law and an independent judiciary in Georgia.”
In a joint statement Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Senator James Risch said that the arrest of the former Georgian PM was “cause for concern.”
Senators Shaheen and Risch were among those five Senators who sent a letter to PM Ivanishvili in early December calling on him to do “everything necessary to avoid even the perception of selective justice against members of the previous government.”
“As two of the Senate’s most outspoken friends of the people of Georgia, we are deeply committed to a strong U.S.-Georgia relationship and believe that Georgia’s destiny is in the West,” Senators Shaheen and Risch say in their May 24 statement. “As such, in December 2012, we called on the new government of Georgia ‘to avoid even the perception of selective justice against members of the previous government’.”
“Unfortunately, recent events, including the arrest and detention of former senior Georgian officials as well as the unbalanced number of prosecutions against members of the opposition party, have deepened our unease and are cause for concern. The possibility that these arrests are seen as political retribution or designed to settle political scores can undermine the future of democracy in Georgia, and we will be closely scrutinizing these cases as they move forward.”
“We expect that in the pursuit of justice, any arrests, detentions, or investigations will be fair, transparent, and completely impartial, and we expect the government to abide by the Prime Minister’s commitment to “ensure against any political influence in the ongoing judicial processes,” the statement reads.
Republican Senator Mark Kirk wrote on his Twitter on May 24: “Deeply concerned by intimidation of Georgian opposition.” He also wrote: President Obama “should condemn & urge new govt [to] follow rule of law.”