France granted political asylum to Georgia’s ex-defense minister, Irakli Okruashvili, French and Georgian lawyers said on April 23.
“The French authorities have officially notified Mr. Okruashvili about granting him a political asylum,” Eka Beselia, Okruashvili's lawyer and an activist from his political party, told journalists in Tbilisi on April 23. “This is very important for us, because it actually means that the extradition case will also end in our favor.”
“It's a very good decision, good news,” lawyer Christine Martineau told The Associated Press. “It's clear that when someone is recognized as a refugee that means the political aspect has been recognized" and that there are "fears related to his political commitments in his country.”
Court in Paris has to resume hearings into the Georgian authorities request over Okruashvili’s extradition case in June.
“He [Okruashvili] will still have to attend extradition hearings until the court makes a final decision, but normally once this type of decision has been made [on asylum], the court will reject the extradition request,” Louis-Marie de Roux, one of Okruashvili's lawyers, told Reuters.
Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) reported that an official from the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons – agency in charge of deciding about asylum issues – said they would not comment on individual cases.
Meanwhile, politicians from the nine-party opposition bloc – to which Okruashvili’s Movement for United Georgia is part of – has already announced that the French decision to grant Okruashvili asylum confirmed that the ex-defense minister was a target of “political repression” by the Georgian authorities.
Tbilisi City Court found Okruashvili guilty of “large-scale extortion” and sentenced him to 11 years in prison in absentia on March 28. Okruashvili’s lawyer, Eka Beselia, said the trial in itself was illegal because a court in Paris had yet to consider Okruashvili’s extradition case. As a result, she boycotted the trial and the ex-defense minister was defended by a state-appointed attorney.
Okruashvili said in a televised interview on March 20 that the authorities were in a hurry to sentence him in absentia to prevent him from running in the May 21 parliamentary elections.