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Tbilisi Appeal Court acquitted 12 former political prisoners convicted in so called Kintsvisi case

02.02.2021

 Tbilisi Appeal Court granted the claim by Human Rights Center (HRC) and rendered a judgment of acquittal in favor of the 12 former political prisoners convicted in 2011 in the so called case of Kintsvisi. 

Due to the gross and obvious violations in the case, further due to the facts of torture and inhuman treatment, the obvious political motives in the investigation, HRC was the initiator that the participants in the so called Kintsvisi case to be granted the status of political prisoners, and in 2013 the Parliament of Georgia adopted the respective resolution.

In the following years, the offenses  committed during the legal proceedings in the above case against the persons convicted became even more apparent. In this regard, the judgment by the European Court of Human Rights in the case Nikoloz Goguadze v. Georgia is especially noteworthy.

All the same, the Prosecutor's Office of Georgia (unfortunately also the Department of the Offenses Committed during Legal Proceedings) defended up to the date the official position of the investigation before 2012 conducted with substantial violations, testimonies obtained through torture and inhuman treatment of detainees.

In 2018, HRC applied to the Court of Appeals with a petition to review the judgment rendered against 12 persons in the so called Kintsvisi case and to render a judgment of acquittal.

This judgment of the Court of Appeals is the result of many years work of HRC, thus taking an important step towards the legal rehabilitation of 12 persons involved in the Kintsvisi case.

Background of the case:

On the morning of May 26, 2011, officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) detained a group of 24 persons in the vicinity of Kintsvisi Monastery. Physical and verbal violence was exerted against detainees during and after the arrest. The reason for the arrest was a conspiracy to change the constitutional order of Georgia. The special operation was widely covered on television and video footage of weapons allegedly seized during the special operation was disseminated. High-ranking officials of MIA stated in the reports that the detainees were preparing an armed coup d'etat.

Further development of the Kintsvisi case was disturbing. In particular, on the website of MIA: www.police.ge, initially the information on the special operation in Kintsvisi was reporting that an armed grouping of 24 persons had been detained and during the detention the accused opposed the police. However, later on such information was not available at the website of MIA, while, which is more surprising, the Prosecutor's Office completely denies the fact of Kintsvisi special operation. In particular, at the court hearing the case of the accused, the representative of the Prosecutor's Office stated that there was no special operation in Kintsvisi and the accused were detained not in Kintsvisi but in Tbilisi. At that time, even under the above circumstances, a judgment of conviction was rendered against 24 persons from whom, through intimidations of and psychological impact towards family members, with 22 persons plea agreements were reached and 2 persons were judged on merit.

According to the criminal case files, the term of detention of Nikoloz Goguadze, the leader of  National-Religious Movement, and other defendants commenced not from the moment of their arrests in Kintsvisi, but from the moment they were brought to Tbilisi Main Police Department. After having examined the case files, the following fact was revealed: actually  Nikoloz Goguadze and other defendants were indeed detained in Kintsvisi, however the special operation was conducted with serious violations as no reports and other documents had been drawn up at the spot. These documents were drafted by the police in Tbilisi the next day, on May 27, and the facts were presented in the manner as if they had been detained at the time when they arrived to Tbilisi Main Police Department. According to the case file, 24 persons were not forcibly brought from Kintsvisi to Tbilisi Main Police Department, but they voluntarily came to the Police Department “in the status of witnesses".

According to initially disseminated reports, the detainees had a whole arsenal of weapons and were preparing for an armed coup d'etat. According to the case files presented at the court, only one of the 24 detainees Mikheil Tsilikashvili, had a firearm, who is a former police officer. Tsilikashvili an officer of a security service and was legally entitled to carry a firearm. No other weapons were mentioned in the case files. The prosecution could not answer the question posed at the court proceedings: If the defendants did not have any weapon, how would they go for an armed coup d’etat? The detainees suffered severe bodily injuries, especially Nikoloz Goguadze who was battered and tortured. This fact is clearly evident in the video of the confession which was promptly disseminated by the national broadcasters.

Nikoloz Goguadze was interrogated from 12:00 am of May 27 until 6:10 am of May 27. At 6:12 am the investigator arrested him in a status of an accused person. Earlier, the same investigator reported that the detainee had bruises on his face and body, and had some pelvic injuries. At the trial, Besarion Kartsivadze, the defence counsel of Nikoloz Goguadze asked the investigator why he would have interrogated the prisoner in such a condition. The investigator replied that the accused had no evident injuries during the interrogation. All the same, in the report drawn up before the interrogation, the investigator himself had mentioned these injuries.

It is disturbing that besides Goguadze, the bodily injuries and traces of torture were also evident on other accused persons. Eventually, all detainees except Goguadze and Keshelava signed a plea agreement with the Prosecutor's Office. However, according to the defence counsels, no particular relief was felt by any of the accused as all of the accused were conditionally sentenced in supplementary punishments: one accused was sentenced to three years of imprisonment, and the majority were sentenced with 4 to 5 years of imprisonment.

On August 12, 2011, the court proceedings of the cases of Nikoloz Goguadze and Oleg Keshelava were ended. Goguadze was sentenced to 12 years of imprisonment  on two charges: the conspiracy and illegal carriage of a firearm, and Oleg Keshelava was sentenced to 8 years of imprisonment.

In January 2013, all 24 persons involved in the so called Kintsvisi case were released as political prisoners.

The investigation into the case began in two departments of the Office of the  Prosecutor General of Georgia. One of the departments was investigating the facts of battery and torture exerted on the detainees, while the new Department was investigating the case in terms of reviewing the unlawful judgment of conviction.

It should be noted that on June 27, 2020, the European Court of Human Rights rendered a judgment on the case:  Nikoloz Goguadze v. Georgia. The court found that Georgia violated Article 3 (prohibition of torture) of the European Convention as the applicant had been ill-treated by law enforcement officers and, at the same time, the State had failed to ensure an effective and timely investigation into the incident.

In the given case, the ECtHR also found a violation of the procedural part of Article 3 of the European Convention. According to the Strasbourg Court, the investigation that began in June 2011 was still going on after almost 8 years. The investigation carried out by the investigative authorities during this period was characterized by complete inaction for several years. Due to substantial human rights violations in the case, the ECtHR ordered the Georgian authorities to pay EUR 10,000 in favor of the applicants. 
 
Since 2015, despite repeated appeals from HRC, the Prosecutor's Office has not granted status of victims to any of the persons involved in the Kintsvisi case. The Department of the General Prosecutor's Office for Investigations of the Offenses committed during Legal Proceedings has not applied to the court either with a petition to  review the illegal convictions imposed against former political prisoners. Moreover, at the court proceedings the Prosecutor’s Office was represented by the prosecutor of the Department for Investigations of the Offenses committed during Legal Proceedings, who was supporting the previous charges for months and stated that he was waiting for the judgment by the judge. This fact per sue indicates to a conflict of interests, when on the one hand an investigation had been launched in the new Department based on the applications by the political prisoners in the so called Kintsvisi case and on the other hand, the prosecutor of the new Department was defending all the way the old accusations in the proceedings ongoing in the Court of Appeals.

HRC which represents the defense, has for years called on the Prosecutor’s Office to grant a status of victims not only to the 12 former political prisoners that are parties to the proceedings in the Court of Appeals, but also to all 24 defendants in the case, as human rights abuses at the stage of the initial criminal investigation are identified in regard  all of them.

The Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia partially took into account the appeal by HRC only after the parties presented their closing arguments to the court at the summary session of the proceedings and it became clear that in a fair trial the prosecution would lose the case. Therefore, following the  closing argument  (November 2020) by the lawyer of HRC, the Prosecutor’s Office has granted the status of victims to 12 persons parties to the proceedings and refused to support the old allegations in the court.

Granting at this stage the status of victims to 12 former political prisoners by the Department of the General Prosecutor's Office for Investigations of the Offenses committed during Legal Proceedings is late, however it has beneficial effects on their legal rehabilitation.

Such a radical change in the position by the Prosecutor’s Office at the last stage of the court proceedings had a significant impact on today's judgment of the Court of Appeals.

HRC calls on the Department of the General Prosecutor’s Office for Investigations of the Offenses committed during Legal Proceedings to immediately grant the status of victims to remaining 12 persons convicted in the case. Furthermore, HRC calls on the Department to conduct an investigation in a timely and efficient manner, which, on the one hand, means establishing the objective truth in the case, and on the other hand, identifying and prosecuting the perpetrators of the offenses committed in the course of the legal proceedings.

Human Rights Center

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