Chakhalyan's case: A litmus test of political will of the Georgian authorities?17.01.2013 | 18:26
Prime Minister of Georgia Bidzina Ivanishvili has arrived in Yerevan. Many problematic issues are on the agenda: the controversial churches, the issue of reducing the hours of teaching of the Armenian language in schools in Javakheti (in Armenian version - Javakhk) and the problems of tariffs for Armenian goods transit through Georgia. In addition to these problems, Armenia is also worried about the release of the activist Vahagn Chakhalyan. Contrary to the expectations of the Armenians, Chakhalyan has not fallen under the recent amnesty, since his name was not included in the list of political prisoners.
Before Ivanishvili's visit to Armenia Tbilisi had the opportunity to release from prison Javakhk political activist Vahagn Chakhalyan under the amnesty. According to many authoritative international organizations, he is a political prisoner. However, convicted in 2009 for 10 years of imprisonment, Chakhalyan was not included in the list of those sentenced "for political reasons", made by the commission created by the parliamentary committee on human rights. Center for Human Rights in Georgia, which had stated that there were political prisoners in the country in 2009, has included Chakhalyan in its list, but the parliamentary committee has refused to do the same. In Javakheti this decision was considered a continuation of the policy of discrimination in relation to ethnic minorities, especially the Armenians, by the Georgian authorities.
Chakhalyan will be released as a regular inmate?
As stated by the authors of the law "On amnesty", more or less it touches almost all the prisoners who committed crimes prior October 2, 2012, namely 17,000 prisoners from existing 23 thousand. "The law provides various forms of amnesty - from total exemption from criminal liability for certain categories of prisoners to shortening of sentences by half, third or quarter", the expert Joni Melikyan said in an interview to GTimes. It is expected that in the next two months there will be released around 3 thousand prisoners.
Those persons whom the new parliament of Georgia considers prisoners "for political reasons" were released on January 13. There were released 190 people serving a prison term as political prisoners, and 25 political refugees. The list includes those involved in the notorious cases during the rule of the previous government. We are talking about the participants of the mutiny in the Georgian military base in Mukhrovani in May 2009, opposition protests on November 7, 2007, on May 26, 2011, as well as those convicted of spying for Russia on the case of "Enver". Among those released there was a citizen of Russia.
As noted by Joni Melikyan, among the political prisoners there were Georgian citizens of Armenian origin: political exile Melik Raisyan and former leaders of the Armenian community of Adjara Armen Gevorgyan and Ruben Shikoyan convicted on the case of "Enver". "The latters are at large, and Melik Raisyan, residing abroad Georgia, is now able to return to the country", he stressed. In his view, the exclusion of Chakhalyan from the list of political prisoners means he will be released under general amnesty.
"Chakhalyan's case has been sent to the court, which must review it and make a decision for two months. He will be either released or his sentence will be reduced", Joni Melikyan concluded.
The matter is in the policy and the Georgian Church
Observers in Armenia and Javakheti have found in the exclusion of Chakhalyan from the list of political prisoners a political background, which is increasing under the influence of the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC). "Chakhalyan's case shows that the authorities and the opposition are carrying out the policy of discrimination against national minorities, especially the Armenians fighting for their rights", coordinator of the Council of Javakheti NGOs Artak Gabrielyan told GTimes.
"If Chakhalyan would have been released as a political prisoner, this would have caused a certain political mood among other political figures in Javakheti", said the representative of the civil sector of Armenian-populated region of Georgia.
In general, observers believe that Chakhalyan's case is a litmus test of political will of the current Georgian authorities which initially intended to release the Armenian activist as a political prisoner, however, however, having met fierce opposition from political opponents, gave up their intention. All the political forces in opposition to the current Georgian government were against the release of Chakhalyan in status of prisoner of conscience. Main opponent of this was the party "United National Movement", led by the current president Mikheil Saakashvili.
Political opponents of the Georgian authorities have spread rumors "that he had participated in the beating of the representatives of the Georgian Church". The GOC is one of the most influential institutions in Georgia. It supported the "Georgian Dream" in the parliamentary election. Thus, by excluding Chakhalyan from the list of political prisoners, but still expressing a willingness to reconsider his case, the political leadership of Georgia have found the "the golden mean".