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The opposition doesn’t trust Georgia’s chief “democratizer”17.03.2009 | 15:07
Just over a month has passed since Dmitry Shashkin took up his post as Minister for Penitentiary and Probation, and he has ended up in the midst of a scandal. As a result of pardons granted to the policemen who were convicted of murdering the bank employee Sandro Girgvliani, the opposition has swamped him with accusations of lying and incompetence. The opposition is indignant. Shashkin is coming up with excuses. The clash is growing.
After all, along with overseeing the implementation of punishments, his duties also include promoting democratic reforms and seeking a common language with the opposition. Admittedly, from the moment when Shashkin was appointed to two posts at once - chief "overseer" and chief "democratizer" - the opposition has been bewildered by what this symbolizes. And in an interview with an Izvestia coorespondent, a Georgian political commentator even joked: "They'll send everyone down and then talk to them. In prison. They will broadcast live discussions, talk shows, they'll give them coffee." Things haven't got that far yet, thank goodness. But the expectations have proved correct - a scandal did erupt.
A few days ago, the opposition revealed that, in accordance with a presidential pardon passed by Saakashvili on 24th November 2008, the murderers of a young bank employee Sandro Girgvliani have had their sentences cut in half, and they could be released any day now.
The killing of Sandro Girgvliani provoked a high-profile political scandal in Georgia in 2006. Several Interior Ministry officers turned out to be the accused. However, human rights activists and the parents of the murdered man said they had been hired to carry out the killing by high-ranking officials within the ministry. The killing inflamed the political atmosphere in the country. The opposition demanded that the Interior Minister, Vano Merabishvili, should resign, and Georgia's ombudsman Sozar Subari and non-governmental organizations spoke out in scathing criticism of the authorities.
It is now becoming clear that this case will not only fail to be investigated further, as the opposition is demanding. But quite the opposite, the men behind bars for the killing enjoy special dispensation from the authorities. "There were many re-trials because those convicted of Girgvliani's murder are not serving out their sentence and are in good conditions. They have even been seen outside the prison. Later reports began to circulate that they had been affected by a pardon. We looked into this and received official confirmation," VZGLYAD quotes one of the leaders of the "Alliance for Georgia", Pikria Chikhradze. "I have the following question: under what pretext are they being released? For good behaviour or because the regime considers Girgvliani's murder to be a minor offence?"
Shashkin is reacting to all this quite calmly: "The convicted men had military ranks, and it was on this basis that they were included in the list of 45 people. The list was compiled as a result of consultations between the parliamentary opposition and the regime. The opposition knew about this. Why has it caused such a furore now?..."
This statement has even outraged the parliamentary opposition, which is not quick to quarrel with the ruling National Movement. So the deputy-speaker of parliament and member of the Christian Democrat party, Levan Vepkhvadze, said that the names of the men to be pardoned were not agreed upon with the opposition. "Only articles subject to the amnesty were examined. Shashkin was not present at this meeting," he is quoted as saying by Day.Az.
The member of the parliamentary minority, Georgi Tsagareishvili, is thunderously accusing the minister for penitentiary of misinforming the public. As always, Tsagareishvili does not mince his words. Hence, according to him, the statement that this decision was agreed upon with the opposition is a "dirty lie, in which not only Shashkin, but the entire regime is complicit".
The opposition is leaving the pardoning commission in protest.
It should be noted that, for the Georgian public, the case surrounding the murder of Sandro Girgvliani remains of the most significant "blunders" committed by the current leadership. At the end of last year, the weekly Kviris Palitra (Palette of the Week) carried out a survey over what has been the biggest mistake and greatest defeat for the "revolutionary" authorities over its five-year rule. The case of Girgvliani's murder was in the top ten of such "mistakes", which have caused significant problems for the authorities.
In first place was, of course, the August war. In second place among the mistakes and defeats endured by Saakashvili and his team was the loss of Georgian territory, and in third - the breaking up of the opposition protest action on 7th November 2007. These were followed by unemployment and economic instability. The Girgvliani case rounds off this list.
Meanwhile, the former foreign minister Georgi Khoshtaria told the VZGLYAD newspaper the following at the time: "For me, the killing of Girgvliani is in first place. Ever since this, a syndrome of defencelessness and impunity for criminals has emerged in society."