bacho akhalaia detained 7 november 2012 -

Former Prison Minister Bacho Akhalaia on the day of his detention, November 7, 2012. (Interpressnews.)

TBILISI, DFWatch–A court in Georgia has sentenced a former government minister to three years and nine months in jail for his role in a prison riot in 2006.

Bacho Akhalaia, former Prison, Defense and Interior Minister, was charged together with Davit Chakua, Revaz Charbadze and Megis Kardava, all three of whom are still being searched for. They were also sentenced to three years and nine months in jail.

The sentence was five years at the beginning, but as result of the amnesty introduced earlier this year, it was reduced by a year and three months.

Bacho Akhalaia will in addition be prohibited from being appointed to an official post for two years and three months. All defendents will have to pay a 4 000 lari (USD 2 400) fine.

Akhalaia is charged with mistreatment and exceeding his powers.

His lawyers accuse judge Lasha Ckhikvadze of having made a deal with Deputy Chief Prosecutor Lasha Natsvlishvili and claimed that in future years the court won’t be able to make independent decisions.

One of them, Goga Oniani, claimed that before the final hearing, the judge had a meeting with Lasha Natsvlishvili. He doesn’t know where they met, but he quotes Natsvlishvili saying ‘how do you think Bacho Akhalaia mustn’t spend in jail at least 2-3 years?’

“Lasha Chkhikvadze enforced these words directly and fulfilled each of Natsvlishvili’s orders,” he said after the sentence was announced.

Last week, a few days before Election Day, the Prosecutor’s Office introduced new charges against Bacho Akhalaia regarding the murder of Sandro Girgvliani, which took place during the previous government and which implicates high ranking officials in the Interior Ministry.

Tbilisi City Court sentenced Akhalaia to additional pre-trial detention pending the hearing in this case, which will be held on November 5. The judge’s decision about detention caused anger among supporters in the hall who in a sign of protest left shouting.

The Prosecutor’s Office claims that Akhalaia abused his powers in the Girgvliani murder case. According to investigators, Akhalaia violated international obligations, as well as the constitution, and abused his powers when improperly enforcing the sentence of four men who were convicted of the murder. Together with other government officials, he let the four convicted serve time under priveleged conditions.

Lawyers of the former minister say the Prosecutor’s Office has only one witness to build on in the Girgvliani charge and claim that he was forced to give testimony against Akhalaia.

“This witness is ready to tell the truth at the hearing and we have a record to prove this,” they say.

The lawyers also think that the constitutional rights of their client have been violated, as the maximum period of pre-trial detention is nine months, while Akhalaia has remained in detention for eleven months.