Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili has decided to temporarily suspend pardoning of prisoners convicted for violent crimes amid mounting political pressure over his pardoning practices.
Critical remarks emerged last week, shortly after Deputy Interior Minister Natia Mezvrishvili confirmed that Vepkhia Bakradze, the suspect in the murder of his 25-year-old stepdaughter in Tbilisi on April 13, was released upon Margvelashvili’s pardon a year ago.
“The Ministry will continue implementing strict measures against violent crimes, but effective implementation will be impossible, if strict measures are not carried out by all relevant state institutions,” Mezvrishvili stressed.
The criticism intensified as Aleqsandre Darakhvelidze, a representative of the Prison System Ministry, confirmed Sunday that the Ministry’s preterm release council had declined the suspect’s pardon request six times.
Lawmakers from the ruling Georgian Dream party have slammed President Margvelashvili’s decision, with MP Vano Zardiashvili, who has previously criticized the President’s pardoning practices, saying the decision was “hardly logical,” and that he could have had “some personal interests” in it.
The opposition European Georgia (EG) and the United National Movement (UNM) parties slammed the decision as well.
EG’s Otar Kakhidze said the decision came in contrast with the President’s reluctance to free ex-Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili. “It seems, other circumstances are more important for him; this may be due to nepotism, cronyism or other incentives as we don’t see any other logic in his move.”
UNM’s Salome Samadashvili echoed Kakhidze’s words, saying the President’s decision was “hardly understandable” considering his reluctance to “challenge Bidzina Ivanishvili’s political repressions through his pardon.”
President Giorgi Margvelashvili responded to the criticism at his special press briefing on April 16, clarifying that Vepkhia Bakradze was convicted of a double crime - domestic violence and car accident - in 2014.
Bakradze’s first request to be pardoned, according to Margvelashvili, was turned down by the Presidential Pardon Commission in July 2015. His second request, however, was approved in October 2016, with President Margvelashvili halving the convict’s remaining sentence to seven months.
As a result, Bakradze was released on May 25, 2017, instead of the pre-pardon release date of December 28, 2017.
The President explained that his decision was based on “an extremely positive” recommendation issued by the penitentiary facility, as well as on “the will of the family to have him released,” referring to the letter of the victim’s mother requesting Bakradze’s release.
Margvelashvili added that he was “very concerned by the development, as well as by the fact that we were impelled to release the convict; this highlights the necessity of taking a deeper look at all procedural details that we are using in the decision-making process.”
“We will suspend pardoning of prisoners convicted for violent crimes before we consult with all relevant actors, including the state agencies, which issue the recommendations, and the groups, which specialize on violent crimes and on violence against women,” he said.