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New PACE President Says Ugulava is ‘Political Prisoner’
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 25 Jan.'16 / 23:57

(UPDATE: adds remarks by GD MP Tedo Japaridze made at the PACE session)

Newly elected President of the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe, Spanish lawmaker Pedro Agramunt said that raising with countries concerned the issue of “liberation of political prisoners”, among them ex-mayor of Tbilisi Gigi Ugulava, will be among priorities.

One of the leaders of the opposition United National Movement (UNM) party, Gigi Ugulava, was sentenced in September, 2015 to 4 years and 6 months in prison after being found guilty of misspending of public funds while serving as the mayor of the capital city – charges, which he has denied as politically motivated. In December President Giorgi Margvelashvili turned down an appeal from a group of citizens asking him to pardon Ugulava.

In his inaugural speech after being elected as PACE President on January 25 for mandate of one year, renewable once, Agramunt said that one of the objectives of his presidency will be “to defend the rights of the PACE parliamentarians, in order that they can carry out their mandate as elected representatives in the Council of Europe and in their own countries.”

“Thus, the liberation of figures such as the Ukrainian [military pilot] Nadiya Savchenko [who is in detention in Russia and who was elected in absentia to Ukraine’s parliament in 2014] and other political prisoners, including Giorgi Ugulava from Georgia, and the defence of their liberty, their freedom of movement and freedom of speech, must be one of the priorities to take up with the authorities of the countries concerned,” said Agramunt, who is chair of the European People’s Party (EPP) in PACE and who has also served as a co-rapporteur for the monitoring of Monaco and Azerbaijan.

MP from Georgian Dream (GD) ruling coalition and member of the Georgian delegation in PACE, Eka Beselia, said that describing Ugulava as a “political prisoner” by Agramunt is caused by the latter’s “political sympathies” towards UNM, which is a member of EPP.

“The fact that the EPP is openly lobbying for the UNM is a well-known. We want to hope that Mr Agramunt in his capacity of PACE president will forget his personal, political friends and political sympathies and he will manage to be balanced in his public statements pursuant to principles of the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe,” MP Eka Beselia said.

But GD MP Tedo Japaridze, also a member of the Georgian delegation in PACE, called on his colleagues from the ruling coalition to refrain from criticizing new President of PACE.

“I would call on my colleagues from the [GD parliamentary] majority group… to refrain from making critical and especially personally targeted remarks towards him [the new PACE president],” GD MP Tedo Japaridze, who chairs foreign affairs committee in the Georgian Parliament, told Georgian journalists in Strasbourg.

“Of course he tends to be biased [in favor of UNM] as he is from the EPP – I am not mentioning this party in a negative context, we know that [EPP] and our opposition [UNM] are affiliated and have sympathies towards [UNM],” added Japaridze, who has been elected as one of the twenty Vice-Presidents of PACE.

MP Japaridze, who chairs the Georgian delegation in PACE, also spoke about the issue in his remarks at the Assembly session, when he congratulated Agramunt on his election as the president and said that Georgia “is not some whipping boy to be kicked here and there.”

“We are not perfect yet in Georgia, but who is perfect? We are much better than we used to be, and our progress has been recognised by European institutions. Georgia is committed to becoming a small pad of democracy in our part of the world,” MP Japaridze said.

“We do not need political supporters and apologists for any party in Georgia from Europe and elsewhere placing their political future above the interests of our country,” he continued. “Let me be clear: PACE’s mandate is to oversee an electoral level playing field. To that end, we welcome probes, questions, electoral and media monitoring and fact-finding missions... If disturbing facts are discovered we should name and shame the individuals whom we hold accountable – but the people themselves, not Georgia.”

“There should be specifics, not rumors. President Agramunt mentioned in his speech the name of one Georgian whom he labeled a political prisoner. That person has been prosecuted in Georgia for misusing public funds. Am I happy that this person is in jail? Of course not, but nobody is above the law in Georgia,” MP Japaridze said.

“Georgia is not some whipping boy to be kicked here and there; we are an independent and sovereign state. If that is important in any year, it is twice as important in an election year. If PACE is to contribute to democratic consolidation in Georgia this year, partisan preferences should be tamed… We all have preferences and weaknesses, but those are personal matters. Political groups, leaders, the President and vice-presidents have a mandate and a duty to serve democracy and human rights,” he added.

“It would be better for them [GD MPs] if they confront less with international institutions and their leaders,” said MP Davit Bakradze, the leader of UNM parliamentary minority group and a member of the Georgian delegation in PACE.

In October, 2015 PACE adopted a resolution, prepared based on report by Pedro Agramunt, which was criticizing Georgia, along with Turkey and Russia, for “abuse of pretrial detention”.

In his inaugural address Pedro Agramunt also said that unresolved conflicts, among them Abkhazia and South Ossetia, “constitute threats to Europe’s security.”

“Threats to security and frozen conflicts still exist in the regions of Transnistria, Republic of Moldova, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Georgia, and Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan,” he said, adding that the PACE should continue to debate on these “frozen conflicts”.

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