Georgia proceeding on prisoner releases

Dec. 11, 2012 at 12:01 AM
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TBILISI, Georgia, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- Georgia said over the weekend it is proceeding with the pardons of 251 prisoners who were jailed during the administration of President Mikheil Saakashvili.

The total represented about half of the 500 prisoners considered for release Sunday at a meeting of Georgia's Pardon Commission, former Deputy Foreign Minister Nino Kalandadze told Georgian broadcaster Rustavi2.

Saakashvili announced Thursday that the inmates, many of whom are considered political prisoners by the newly elected Parliament dominated by the former opposition Georgia Dream coalition, would receive presidential pardons.

The names of those to be freed weren't released but Kalandadze said Sunday the pardons board is using a set of criteria for the final decisions under which convicts "who pose no danger to the society" and whose crimes include "no threat of relapse" are to be considered first.

Also at the front of the line are prisoners who have served most of their sentences and are suffering certain health problems, the broadcaster reported.

Saakashvili became a "lame duck" leader after the Oct. 1 parliamentary elections, in which the Georgian Dream coalition led by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili defeated Saakashvili's United National Movement, ending its nine-year rule.

The new Parliament last Wednesday voted to approve a resolution granting political prisoner status to 190 Georgian prisoners, including some former government officials convicted of crimes since January 2004 under Saakashvili's pro-United States presidency.

Saakashvili quickly followed the next day with his announcement on the prisoner release program.

Some of the prisoners on the Parliament's list were convicted of spying for Russia, while others were arrested in connection with May 2011 street protests and charged with attempting "to stage armed provocations," Bloomberg reported.

UNM member Chiora Taktakishvili told the news service the moves to free "Russian spies" were "shameful."

Since the Oct. 1 elections, meanwhile, Ivanishvili has embarked on dozens of investigations of UNM party members, prompting calls from NATO for the new and old leaders to "cohabitate" peacefully until Saakashvili's term ends next year.

"In October, Georgia passed an important test," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said last week. "It held elections which were free, fair and democratic. Next year's presidential elections will constitute another important test.

"Meanwhile, we encourage all parties to work together to keep up that momentum, to make cohabitation work, to continue to pursue the necessary reforms and to meet the highest democratic standards, including full respect for the rule of law and the constitution," he added.

Ivanishvili Sunday said he believes a multiparty system remains vital for Georgia's development into a true democracy, Rustavi2 reported.

Speaking to the congress of the Free Democrats Party -- part of the Georgia Dream coalition -- the prime minister assured there was "no danger" of the country becoming a one-party state.

Defense Minister and former Free Democrats party Chairman Irakli Alasania told the gathering the new government has abolished the practice of covert wiretapping of political opponents instituted under Saakashvili's leadership, the broadcaster said.

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