After a preliminary hearing late last month, the Tbilisi City Court resumed on September 3 a trial of 41 men arrested over charges related with, what the authorities say was, a brief mutiny at a military unit in Mukhrovani, outside Tbilisi, on May 5.
26 out of 41 defendants are military personnel and 15 – civilians.
12 defendants are charged with an attempt to overthrow the government through use of force – among them are Koba Otanadze, a former military official, and Levan Amiridze, who at that time was a commander of rangers unit at one of Tbilisi-based military units. The both men were wounded when police arrested them on May 20 and one suspect, Gia Krialashvili, was killed by the police after “armed resistance,” according to the Interior Ministry.
Koba Kobaladze, who served as commander of the National Guard till February, 2004, is also among those defendants facing charges of an attempt overthrow the government through use of force.
19 defendants face charges related with disobedience, or providing assistance in disobedience.
Eight are accused of not reporting the crime and one is with primary charge of illegal possession and purchase of weapons.
At the hearing on September 3, Natia Siradze, a defense lawyer for Koba Otanadze pleaded with a judge, Jemal Kopaliani, for giving the defense more time to read all the files in the case, consisting of 25 volumes. Siradze, who got involved in defense of Otanadze ten days ago, said that although she viewed most of the files, five volumes of the case were handed to her only on September 2.
Defense lawyers of other defendants supported the request, but prosecutors objected it describing the request as an attempt “to drag-out the process.”
After judge Jemal Kopaliani turned down the attorney’s request, Natia Siradze filed for recusal of judge Kopaliani on the grounds that he did not give the attorney “reasonably additional time” to read files, hence “violating” her right to properly defend her client at the today’s hearing.
“It gives me reason to think that you won’t be able to consider the case against 41 defendants objectively and fairly so I demand your recusal,” Siradze told the judge.
Attorneys of other defendants supported the recusal motion; prosecutors were against.
The motion was rejected by the judge citing that turning down of attorney’s appeal in itself can not serve as a ground for recusing a judge.
At one point discussions grew into a brief argument between the defense lawyer and the judge during which Siradze told Kopaliani: “the verdict is already written” – a reference to allegations that the court is not independent, acting on the authorities instructions and that charges against Mukhrovani case defendants are politically-motivated and the trial is a mere formality.
Judge Kopaliani said the remark was “an insult” of the court and warned the attorney that she would be expelled from the courtroom if she would continue “insulting” the judge and the court.
Another motion filed by an attorney one of the defendants involved change of the trial schedule. The attorney, supported by other defense lawyers, demanded to increase time intervals between the hearings from the current two and three days to at least five days. Prosecutors were against. The judge turned down the motion.
The hearing was expected to resume on September 3 after an hour break, but it was adjourned as two attorneys failed to show up with one of them citing health problems. The judge fined two other defense lawyers with GEL 200 each for being late at the trial.
The trial is scheduled to resume on September 7.