Russian-backed Abkhaz leader Raul Khajimba released a statement on January 6, saying he intended to work with Sokhumi “parliament” to present the fifth and final “constitutional court” judge “in the shortest possible time.”
The statement was issued in response to the decision by the “parliamentary” investigative commission on the case of Giorgi Lukava - a native of Abkhazia’s Gali district - whose release had sparked anti-government protests in Abkhazia.
The commission decision, adopted by the “parliament” on January 5, envisions full staffing of the “constitutional court” and transfer to it of Lukava’s release materials, so that the court can make a decision on the legitimacy of Khajimba’s pardon of the prisoner.
The commission also committed to producing a draft law “limiting pardon with regard to individuals having committed particularly grave crimes on the territory of Abkhazia,” and recommended to Khajimba to suspend his head of administration until the constitutional court reviewed the pardon case.
Khajimba’s January 6 statement expresses his agreement with a future legislation that would limit the “presidential” pardon in the “grave crimes” cases, but rejects the recommendation to suspend his head of administration.
Three opposition “MPs”– Batal Tabaghua, Batal Aiba and Aslan Bzhania - challenged the commission’s decision to refer the case to a court that has not been fully formed yet, demanding to involve the “supreme court” instead. The decision was adopted despite their protest, with Tabaghua and Aiba voting against it.
On January 5, before the commission issued its decision, Khajimba visited the “parliament,” and later addressed the protest rally in front of the legislature’s building. The “president” insisted that Lukava’s release was a “political decision” aimed at accommodating the interests of the Tskhinvali Russian-backed authorities within the framework of a tripartite prisoner exchange arrangement.
Tskhinvali leader Anatoly Bibilov had issued a statement of his own on January 4, confirming that Sokhumi actions regarding the prisoners release were conducted in the interests of Tskhinvali and expressing hope that “the help to the brotherly Ossetian people, expressed in the good political will of president R. Khajimba, will not become a reason for a societal-political tension in Abkhazia.”
The protest rally participants, who stayed in front of the “parliament” until late-night on January 5, were displeased by the commission’s decision that deferred the final assessment of Khajimba’s actions to the “constitutional court.” Several deputies, however, called on the rally participants to remain calm, including the “parliament speaker” Valery Kvarchia and a former Sokhumi leader, deposed by Khajimba’s supporters in 2014, Alexander Ankvab.
According to the region’s “constitution,” if the “constitutional court” decides that Khajimba’s decision to pardon Lukava was illegal, the “parliament” could impeach him with a two-thirds majority. The majority in the 35-member “parliament” belongs to Khajimba’s supporters, however.