TBILISI, DFWatch–A Georgian volunteer soldier in Ukraine was released from pre-trial detention Thursday evening, thus avoiding extradition to Russia, where he is accused of a murder in 2003.
Gia Tsertsvadze thanked his supporters as he left prison but declined making further comments.
It was not entirely clear how he came to be released, as the Court of Appeal in Kiev decided a few hours earlier to postpone a decision because the required documents had not arrived in time. The next trial hearing was scheduled for February 3.
Tbilisi-based TV channel Rustavi2 showed images of the former vice colonel’s release with friends and family gathered.
Davit Sakvarelidze, one of the closest associate of Georgia’s former president Mikheil Saakashvili and former deputy prosecutor general of Ukraine, told Rustavi 2 that release Georgian legionnaire from the prison was very surprising.
“It seems prosecutors have suspended criminal prosecution against Tsertsvadze, they have the authority to do it,” Sakvarelidze said.
In addition to family and friends of the accused, several politicians from Georgia’s Unted National Movement and their supporters were also present at the hearing, including former president Mikheil Saakashvili, who told journalists afterward that he was sure the court would release the Georgian.
Giorgi Tsertsvadze’s defense lawyer argued that the accusations are made up by Russian authorities for political reasons and connected to her client’s participation as a 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.
Giorgi (Gia) Tsertsvadze, 47, was an employee of the Ministry of Internal Affairs 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; and then in Ukraine’s Donbass region.
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. In Georgia, opposition parties and civil activists accused the government of indifference toward the case and even that it has been assisting Russia.
Opposition parties, activists and the ombudsman called on the government to defend the rights of the detainee. Parliamentarian for UNM Otar Kakhidze claims the Georgian government sent Russian authorities compromising information about Tsertsvadze.
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 conducting ‘punitive 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.
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.