Pretrial detention of Georgia’s former Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili was justified in the beginning, but later on the predominant purpose became to obtain information on unrelated cases, including the one against former President Mikheil Saakashvili, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said in its ruling delivered on November 28.
As a result, the Grand Chamber of the Strasbourg-based court found that there has been a violation of Article 18 (limitation on use of restrictions on rights) of the European Convention on Human Rights taken in conjunction with Article 5 § 1 (right to liberty and security).
While the ECHR found no violation of Article 5 § 3 of the Convention (entitlement to trial within a reasonable time or to release pending trial) with regards to Merabishvili’s arrest and initial pretrial detention in May 2013, the Court also ruled that remanding him in custody four months after his arrest “ceased to be based on sufficient grounds,” thus constituting a violation of the same article.
The ECHR also said there had been no violation of Article 5 § 1 (right to liberty and security) with regard to Merabishvili’s arrest or his pre-trial detention.
Merabishvili, who served as the Prime Minister for few months before the United National Movement was defeated in the 2012 parliamentary elections, was arrested in May 2013 and charged with misspending and vote-buying; other set of criminal charges were filed against him later - all of them denied by Merabishvili as politically motivated. Merabishvili was found guilty and sentenced to prison terms in several separate trials in 2014.
In his complaint against his pretrial detention filed with the ECHR, Merabishvili was claiming violation of number of articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.
In one of his claims, relying on Article 18 of the Convention taken in conjunction with Article 5 § 1, Merabishvili was alleging that initiation of criminal proceedings against him and his arrest were used by the authorities to exclude him from the political scene and preventing him from standing as a candidate in the October 2013 presidential election.
He also claimed that his persecution continued during the pretrial detention when in December 2013 he was allegedly removed from his cell and taken for a late-night meeting with the then Chief Prosecutor Otar Partskhaladze, whom Merabishvili accused of intimidation for the purpose of obtaining information about the death of the former Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania, and on alleged secret offshore bank accounts of ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili.
In its judgment, the ECHR said although Merabishvili’s pre-trial detention had taken place “against the backdrop of bitter political antagonism between UNM and Georgian Dream,” his submissions “are not sufficient to show that the predominant purpose of that detention was to hinder his participation in Georgian politics rather than to ensure the proper conduct of the criminal proceedings against him.”
The Court, however, also ruled that Merabishvili’s allegations concerning his covert removal from his prison in December 2013 cell was “sufficiently convincing and therefore proven,” and although in the beginning the purpose of the pre-trial detention “had been the investigation of offences based on a reasonable suspicion, it later on became to obtain information about Mr Zhvania’s death and Mr Saakashvili’s bank accounts.”
The ECHR awarded Merabishvili with EUR 4,000 for non-pecuniary damages.