Georgia’s Supreme Court yesterday sentenced Jaba Ioseliani, leader of the banned organization Mkhedrioni [Knights], to eleven years of detention, and fourteen codefendants to various terms of imprisonment. Ioseliani and most of the codefendants had been in pretrial detention since late 1995. Former State Security chief Teimuraz Khachishvili received fifteen years, and Giga Gelashvili, head of the banned Rescue Corps–a paramilitary affiliate of Mkhedrioni, fourteen. The charges against them include creation of unlawful armed groups, commission of murder and banditry during the period 1992-95, and involvement in the August 1995 abortive coup d’etat against President Eduard Shevardnadze. The complexity and unusually large size of the indictment made for a protracted trial.
The rump Mkhedrioni organization at large reacted immediately by announcing “the start of active struggle against the authorities.” The group considers the defendants innocent, and the sentences a “political settling of accounts” orchestrated by Shevardnadze (Radio Tbilisi cited by Russian agencies, November 10).
A multifaceted political, paramilitary and criminal organization, inspired both by both nationalist and mercenary goals, the Mkhedrioni shares responsibility for the turmoil which engulfed Georgia from 1991 to 1995. The organization played a key role in ousting former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia from power in 1992, thus paving the way for Shevardnadze’s return to Georgia and to office. Under Ioseliani and his ally Tengiz Kitovani as defense minister, the Mkhedrioni became the most influential force in the Tbilisi power structures. It took Shevardnadze more than three years to gather sufficient strength to ban the Mkhedrioni and prosecute its leaders. Kitovani and a few accomplices were convicted in 1997. One small Mkhedrioni group recently reconstituted itself as a “public organization” abjuring violence.
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