TBILISI, DFWatch — The Armenian Diocese in Georgia accuses President Mikheil Saakashvili of making provocative statements regarding an ethnic Armenian prisoner, and calls on him to avoid such language.

In 2008, Georgian police detained Vahagn Chakhaliani, a Georgian citizen of Armenian origin, together with his father and brother, but both were later released. Chakhaliani was charged under two articles of the criminal law and sentenced to ten years in jail for organizing massive disorder, participating in an ad hoc organized group hooliganism and keeping and purchasing ammunition and explosive material.

Recently, the Georgian parliament adopted a law on amnesty, which applies to more than 18 000 prisoners. Vahagn Chakhaliani too benefited from the amnesty, and was released January 24. President Saakashvili criticized the amnesty many times and twice blocked it from being enforced by using his veto.

In one of his statements, the president mentioned Vahagn Chalakhiani as an enemy of Georgia, and said he reminded him of a convicted criminal, Vladislav Ardzimba. He criticized the new government for releasing Chalakhiani.

Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, who at the time was participating in the World Economic Forum in Davos, said the Armenian Patriarch raised the issue of releasing Vahang Chakhaliani when he visited Armenia.

“When I was asked about it I redirected them saying that I wasn’t competent on this issue. I do not decide these issues,” he said.

But the president said the prime minister’s statement unsatisfactory, as the only argument was that the Armenian patriarch raised this issue. He said Ivanishvili will not be able to run away from a decision which he personally made.

“This is a very heavy responsibility for Georgia’s security,” the president said.

Later, Sozar Subari, Georgia’s Prison Minister, responded by accusing members of Saakashvili’s National Movement (UNM) party of making incorrect statements. He explained that Chakhaliani was accused of less serious crimes, specifically violating public order, hooliganism and a weapon charge.

Subari said the Armenian Patriarch had not made any demands, but only asked what was happening regarding Chakhaliani’s case and why he wasn’t on the list of political prisoners.

The amnesty law applies to the sections of the law which he was charged under; that’s why he was released.

January 26, the Armenian Church, the Patriarchate, issued a statement calling on UNM party leaders and the president to avoid making provocative statements.

“Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and Vano Merabishvili, Secretary General of the National Movement, claimed that Vahagn Chakhaliani, which they turned into a political prisoner, is a separatist, agent of a foreign special service and enemy of the Georgian state,” the statement reads, adding that by those statements they admitted that under the UNM government there was no justice at all.

“If Chalakhiani really was a separatist and an agent, why wasn’t he convicted under the appropriate sections of the criminal code?”

The statement by the Armenian Church says that there is only one explanation: that the former government used the justice system against its political opponents. The statement also draws attention to another statement by President Saakashvili in which he talked about Armen Gevorgyan, and accused him of being a spy.

“How was it possible that he only read those surnames in a list of 200 political prisoners and use it for his own goals?” the statement says, adding that despite political inconveniences, they are sure friendly relations will continue between the two peoples.

President Saakashvili’s administration on Monday responded to the statement by expressing respect for compatriot Armenians and the Armenian Diocese in Georgia.

The statement says the Georgian president has stated many times that it is categorically unacceptable when political or social groups build political perspectives based on different phobias including ‘Armenophobia’.

“On this background, the latest statement by the Armenian Diocese in Georgia is surprising, as the Georgian President in his statement underlined that the ethnic origins of Vahagn Chakhaliani has no importance. It is about criminal actions by a citizen of Georgia,” the administration writes, expressing hope that the misunderstanding was only caused by a lack of information.

President Saakashvili Monday once again personally responded to the release of Vahang Chakhaliani, saying that it is a problem. He said this while meeting with refugees from the Georgian breakaway region Abkhazia.

He once again referred to Chakhaliani as ‘an extremely dangerous criminal’.

“They hit back: If he was such a criminal, why was he as sentenced for being a separatist,” Saakashvili said. “Pardon me, but this parliament granted status of political refugees to people participating in rebellion against the state, Russian spies, and wouldn’t they put separatists on the list of political prisoners? Of course they would, and release them as political heroes.”