NGO Statement on filing criminal charges against ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili

31 Jul, 2014

NGOs would like to respond to the filing criminal charges against ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili by the Office of the Chief Prosecutor of Georgia.  Launching criminal prosecution against Mikheil Saakashvili has raised a number of questions both in Georgia and outside of the country about political retribution and bias. Statements have been issued by the US Department of State and US senators, expressing concern about possible political retribution.

We, the NGOs, are concerned that actions taken against former high-ranking officials raise questions regarding the legitimacy of legal proceedings. Often statements about detention or launching criminal prosecution are made by political office-holders before implementing respective procedural activities; moreover the presumption of innocence is violated on a continual basis. The aforementioned trends raise questions about the respect of the rule of law, human rights and freedoms as well as the democratic development of the country, all of which  may put significant obstacles in the way to European integration. We urge the government of Georgia to refrain from making statements about criminal responsibility of citizens, especially when it refers to politicians.

On 28 July 2014, at 11 a.m., the Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia summoned ex-president Mikheil  Saakashvili as a witness. Saakashvili was summoned as a witness on 28 March 2014 as well.  After the ex-president did not appear, the Prosecutor’s Office announced during a press briefing that Saakashvili had been charged with ignoring/non-compliance with official authorities.

The above mentioned circumstances prompt that actual reason for summoning Mikheil Saakashvili as a witness was bringing charges to him.These doubts were further supported by the statement issued by the Prosecutor’s Office, which  actually confirmed that the Prosecutor’s Office had intended to file criminal charges against the ex-president and summoning him as a witness aimed to give a reasonable time to Saakashvili, who is currently abroad, to appear before law enforcement agencies and cooperate with the investigative authority.

In 2009, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in the Nikolaishvili vs. Georgia case, which is similar to the current case, that Article 5 of the Convention was violated.  According to the court ruling, summoning a person as a witness when the actual intention is to bring charges against him or her violates the principle of legal certainty and at the same time diminishes confidence in law enforcement agencies.

Based on the principle of certainty, in the case of the ex-president of Georgia such interpretation of law raises concerns. It is not right to interrogate a person as a witness if the total evidence at hand of the investigative authority is sufficient to bring a charge against him. Under current law, evidence gathered as part of a protracted investigation may be considered unacceptable. In such circumstances the interest of the investigation may be also infringed.

Therefore, summoning a person by the Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia as a witness, when his criminal liability is clearly defined runs counter both to human rights and the public interest of the investigation. We urge the Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia rule out any activities, which may raise doubts regarding legitimacy of legal proceedings against politicians. In this respect it is important to take into account the precedent law of the European Court of Human Rights, which deals with criminal responsibility of political office-holders and 11 March, 2013 CDL-AD(2013)001 declaration of the Venice Commission on political and criminal responsibility.