Widespread allegations about restrictions on judicial independence since the Rose Revolution have received new credibility following sensational confessions by four members of the Georgian Supreme Court. Tamaz Iliashvili, Merab Turava, David Sulakvelidze, and Nino Gvenetadze have publicly accused Kote Kublashvili, chairman of the Supreme Court, and Valery Tsertsvadze, secretary of the Supreme Council of Justice, of exerting political pressure on judges and forcing them to make decisions favoring the government on specific cases.
Currently, the Judicial Discipline Commission under the Supreme Council of Justice is considering “disciplinary action” against these four judges and 18 others who are suspected of misconduct. After the November 2003 Rose Revolution the Supreme Council of Justice, a deliberative body under President Mikheil Saakashvili, was authorized to prosecute and fire judges in case of “disciplinary” abuse. Some analysts allege that the government is using this provision to get rid of troublesome judges.
Five Supreme Court justices resigned on December 6 and most observers believe their departure was forced, rekindling a wave of criticism of the authorities over alleged pressure on judges. “These judges were threatened that, had they refuseed to resign, they would be deprived of any kind of social security, including pensions,” former justice Turava said.
Turava is among those four judges who accuse Kublashvili and Tsertsvadze of bullying judges. Turava said that Kublashvili had tried to induce him to resign in exchange for material comforts after retirement, but when he refused, Turava was slapped with a disciplinary hearing. Both men have denied these allegations.
The same tactic has been applied to the other “dissident” judges. According to an amendment to the law on the Supreme Court of Georgia passed in June 2005, Supreme Court judges who resign before December 31, 2005, will receive a pension equal to their current salary. NGOs and some judges argue that this amendment is designed to clean out judges who refuse to yield to the authorities’ demands to resign. Several judges were reported to have resigned “voluntarily” because they could not endure any further pressure. This method appears to be an efficient mechanism, because very few people can afford to decline a high pension given the current level of unemployment and economic hardship in Georgia. The threat of dismissal forces judges to accept the current situation and carry out political orders, analysts argue.
On November 21 Georgian Parliamentary Chair Nino Burjanadze asked the parliamentary committees for legal issues and human rights to probe the allegations of political pressure on judges. Burjanadze’s instructions followed an appeal by the opposition Democratic Front parliamentary faction to scrutinize statements by Supreme Court Judge Tamaz Iliashvili, who claimed that authorities had tried to influence his legal decisions.
In interviews with press Turava, Gvenetadze, and Sulakvelidze offered evidence to prove their claims that after the Rose Revolution the Georgian Supreme Court increasingly became dependent on the will of the government. Turava remembered a conversation in Kublashvili’s study, where the latter justice reportedly issued a warrant to jail an innocent person for no other reason than to save the face of the Prosecutors Office. “What? So he goes to jail for three years? We can’t offend the guys from the Prosecutors’ Office,” Turava quoted Kublashvili as saying. He added that Kublashvili had not reacted when the Prosecutor’ Office launched an investigation against a judge who had made a decision unfavorable for them. Turava regretted that other judges would not dare to go public with such accusations. Kublashvili, however, admitted that problems exist in the court system, but he denied any pressure on the judges.
Well-known representatives of the local NGO and legal community lined up to defend the disgraced judges when the Supreme Council of Justice’s disciplinary board met on December 5. According to observers, the board’s decision will be a landmark, because it will serve as a litmus test for the government and the entire judicial system of Georgia.
“We support these judges because they were the first to publicly say what is going on in our court system. We must support them and thereby urge other judges to raise their voice,” declared Tina Khidasheli, a lawyer, NGO activist, and a leader of the Republican Party. Khidasheli also noted that a petition signed by 38 judges had been sent to various international organizations. The petition contained concrete facts related to incidents of the government bringing pressure to bear on judges in order to reach verdicts favorable to the government.
Analysts and opposition groups claim that Kublashvili, Tsertstvadze, Prosecutor General Zurab Adeishvili (all Saakashvili’s close confidants), and some members of parliament, including Saakashvili’s closest allies, Giga Bokeria and Nika Gvaramia, are orchestrating a forcible reorganization of the Georgian judicial corps. Bokeria has unequivocally stated that the ruling party intends to purge disgraced judges from the court system.
In the two years since the Rose Revolution, an apparently widespread government practice of taming judges through “disciplinary cases” has evidently tipped the already fragile balance among the judicial, legislative, and executive branches in favor of the executive. Ten years ago Saakashvili, then chair of the parliamentary committee for legal affairs, was unanimously hailed as the “godfather of revolutionary court reform in Georgia.” Now the Georgian court system gravely ill and needs immediate treatment.
(Akhali Taoba, November 18; Kviris Palitra, November 28-December 4; TV-Imedi, TV-Rustavi-2, December 4; Georgian Times, December 1-7; Resonansi, November 28, December 6; Civil Georgia, December 6)