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Georgian volunteer soldier’s arrest in Kiev stirs controversy in Georgia

by | Jan 26, 2017
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(Protest at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Tbilisi, Jan. 23. On.ge.)

TBILISI, DFWatch–The top prosecutor in Ukraine is calling off a criminal case against a Georgian man who volunteered to fight in the war in Donbass. The man is accused of a murder in Sochi in 2003 and risks extradition to Russia.

His defense lawyer at the trial has argued that the accusations are made up by Russian authorities for political reasons and connected to her client’s participation as volunteer fighter in the war in Ukraine’s southeastern regions.

The trial has become controversial in Tsertvadze’s home country Georgia, where public figures have claimed that the Georgian government has been covertly aiding Russia by providing information implicating the former vice colonel.

As Vice Colonel Gia Tsertvadze awaits a ruling in his appeals court hearing on Thursday, he might be expecting good news. On Tuesday, commander of the Georgian Legion in Kiev told Tbilisi-based TV channel Rustavi 2 that the prosecutor general of Ukraine had assured him that Gia Tsertsvadze  will be released after the hearing in the Court of Appeal scheduled for tomorrow, January 26.

The Georgian Legion is a unit of volunteer soldiers from Georgia, fighting on the side of Kiev in the war in Donbass. The unit’s commander Mamuka Mamulashvili told Rustavi 2 that Prosecutor General of Ukraine Yuriy Lutsenko asked him to write him a letter on behalf of the unit confirming that Tsertsvadze participated in combat operations.

47-year-old Tsertsvadze was an employee of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) until 2012. A year later, he left the country for Ukraine. According to Georgian media, he participated in hostilities against Russia in the 1990s and in the 2008 Georgia-Russia war. DF Watch asked the MIA for information about Tsertsvadze’s military past, but the ministry refused for reasons of protection of personal information.

The retired Georgian vice colonel was arrested in Ukraine on January 15, as he returned to Kiev from Tbilisi. Russia accuses him of a murder in Sochi in 2003 and on December 23, 2016 issued an Interpol red notice for his arrest. Kiev City Court decided to place Tsertsvadze in pre-trial detention for 40 days. His defense lawyers appealed the decision to the High Court, which will hear the case on January 26.

In Georgia, opposition party and civil activists blamed the government for having an indifferent attitude to the case and even assisting Russia.

Opposition parties, civil group activists and the ombudsman called on the government to defend the rights of the detainee. Parliamentarian for UNM Otar Kakhidze blames the Georgian government of having contributed compromising information about Tsertsvadze on behalf of Russia.

The UNM has asked the Prosecutor General’s Office of Georgia to start an investigation into the case. They also accuse the Georgian government of doing ‘punishing operations’ against high-profile service members of the Georgian military.

In response, Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili said on Wednesday that the state is a guarantee for the rights of its citizens and if Tsertsvadze returns to Georgia, Georgia will not hand over Tsertsvadze to another country, especially to a country which has illegal military bases on our territory.

“There shouldn’t be any questions about this. I hope that this case will be solved in favour of Mr Tsertsvadze,” Kvirikashvili said.

The Prosecutor General’s Office of Georgia wrote in a statement on Tuesday that by extraditing Tserstvadze to Russia, his fundamental rights as a citizen of Georgia would be violated.

“The Prosecution Service of Georgia maintains intensive communication with Ukrainian colleagues regarding the extradition of Giorgi Tserstvadze to the Russian Federation, in order to avoid his extradition to the state which initiated the search for him,” the statement reads.

Tuesday evening, UNM members and activists gathered in front of the MIA building to protest what they see as the government’s disinterest in defending the rights of one of its citizens.

A UNM spokesperson said the protest aimed at telling the international community that the government of Georgia is letting one of its citizens, who fought against Russia, be extradited to the rival country.

UNM also demanded that the government creates an investigative commission dedicated to the case.

Demonstrators called the rally a warning, and sad if the government doesn’t respond without delay, there will be further and more extensive protests.



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