TBILISI, DFWatch–Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili pardoned 121 prisoners in connection with the celebration of Giorgoba, an important Christian holiday in Georgia.
93 of those who were pardoned left prison the same day Friday, while 28 prisoners had their sentence reduced.
Three of those pardoned are women and three are minors.
A decree signed by the president in March lowers the threshold for eligibility for prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment. A prominent case which could come up for review in 2020 is the man who threw a hand grenade at President George W. Bush in Tbilisi in 2005. Vova Arutinov was found guilty of a terror attack and sentenced to life imprisonment. His detention, reported live on TV, took place near his own apartment in Vashlijvari, an uptown district in Tbilisi.
After the change of government, parliament introduced a mass amnesty in January, 2013, and many prisoners had their sentences reduced. 17,000 prisoners were released. Prisoners with life sentences went on hunger strike several times in 2014, because the amnesty didn’t change their terms of imprisonment.
The new rule that came into force this year reduces the minimum term that must have been served before becoming eligible for pardon from 25 to 15 years, thus allowing more prisoners with a life term eligible to be considered for early release.
Media commentator Zviad Koridze, who heads the president’s pardon commission, says seven prisoners with life sentences meet the criteria, but none of them made it to the final list this time. It is not known when the cases of those people will be reviewed. The commission plans to make a proposal to the president for having a mechanism to handle such cases.
According to the most recent data, there are 83 people sentenced to life imprisonment. Four of them are women who were convicted for purchasing and keeping a large amount of drugs and for drug dealing.
The president’s pardon commission is one of two such bodies in Georgia; the other one files under the Prison Ministry.
It is customary in Georgia for the president to pardon prisoners four times a year around the time of major religious celebrations: Christmas (January 7, according to the Julian calendar), Easter, Mariamoba (August 28) and Giorgoba (November 23).
A commission goes through the case files of prisoners and makes recommendations among those who are eligible. The requirement is to have been convicted for the first time, that the sentence is not exceeding five years in jail and to have served more than a third of the time.
In case of severe or particularly severe crimes, the prisoner must have served at least five years in order to be eligible, but the prison administration must also confirm that the person is well behaved and recommend that the commission consider their case.