(UPDATE: adds Georgian foreign minister’s comments in last two paragraphs)
Senior government and Georgian Dream ruling coalition members have responded with separate statements and letters to concerns and criticism voiced over bringing criminal charges against former president Mikheil Saakashvili.
Senior GD MPs Giorgi Volski and Tedo Japaridze released English-language written statements and Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani published a piece in the Wall Street Journal in response to the latter’s editorial critical of the Georgian authorities.
A statement by MP Giorgi Volski, who chairs Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia party’s parliamentary faction, the largest one in the Parliament, responds to a statement by Vice President of the European People’s Party (EPP), MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski.
Vice-President of EPP, which is a partner of Saakashvili’s UNM party, said that “the unjustified charges against… Saakashvili in relation to his work of in Ukraine in support of Ukraine’s new government, are a worrying continuation of actions taken against many senior members of the main opposition party, the UNM.” The same statement says that “the recent series of politically motivated actions again the country's main opposition party, reveal that the government is not taking seriously” the Association Agreement with the EU.
MP Volski says in his response that his parliamentary faction “is shocked by the factually incorrect and prejudicial statement” of the EPP. He says the assertion that the charges against Saakashvili are related to his recent activities in Ukraine “is blatantly incorrect, moreover, it is offensive and politically unbalanced.”
“Secondly, the assertion that the charges are ‘unjustified’ implies a judgment on the substance of the case that it is for no other entity than the justice system of Georgia to deliver,” MP Volski says, adding that charges against Saakashvili are related to serious human rights violations during crackdown on protesters on November 7, 2007, as well as raid on and “expropriation” of Imedi TV. He also cites calls from international organizations and NGOs, who were urging the authorities at the time to fully investigate those incidents.
“Thirdly, if Mr. Saryusz-Wolski or the European People’s Party believes the charges to be ‘unjustified’ because ‘politically motivated’, this is a very serious allegation against the State of Georgia, challenging the rule of law in our country, which demands to be itself justified and accompanied by concrete evidence,” MP Volski says in his statement. “At this time there is no evidence to support the claim of the European People’s Party that the legal process against Mr. Saakashvili violates due process. We are not willing to concede, that European People’s Party Vice President calls for certain individuals to stand above the law.”
In a separate statement, chairman of parliamentary committee for foreign relations, GD MP Tedo Japaridze, responds to, as he puts it, “unfounded concerns” of Georgia’s “international partners and esteemed friends” and repeats the points, which he has already laid out in his separate letter to several U.S. Senators, who also expressed concern over bringing criminal charges against Saakashvili.
Georgian Justice Minister, Tea Tsulukiani, sent a letter to The Wall Street Journal “strongly” protesting over WSJ’s July 29 editorial “What a Georgian Shame”, which slams bringing criminal charges against Saakashvili as “political vendetta”.
“Georgia is credited by its international partners with having made great democratic progress since the change of government in 2012,” Tsulukiani writes. “The prosecutor's office has received nearly 20,000 citizen complaints alleging serious human-rights abuses under the former ruling party, implicating the highest levels of government. The authorities have a legal duty to investigate violations of human rights. Mr. Saakashvili has been charged in relation to a violent crackdown on peaceful protesters and the suppression of media, as documented by Human Rights Watch. These alleged actions sparked an international outcry in 2007, and consistent demands for those responsible to be held accountable.”
“There is indeed plenty of shame in Georgia's past, but 2007 marked a turning point. We will not run away from it; we will learn from it and move forward. Victims have a right to receive answers to their complaints. The independent investigation into Mr. Saakashvili must follow the facts, operate transparently and uphold the law. This isn't about politics, this is about justice,” writes the Georgian Justice Minister.
Meanwhile on August 6, Foreign Minister of Sweden, Carl Bildt, wrote on his Twitter: Georgian “authorities deviate from European path in using justice system for revenge. Does damage to the country.”
Georgian Foreign Minister, Maia Panjikidze, responded that his Swedish counterpart’s remarks are “not correct” and Bildt is jumping to conclusions.
“This is also to some extent a pressure on the judiciary and on the entire process,” she told journalists in Tbilisi on August 6.