More than 100 lawyers are imprisoned in the Caucasus republic of Georgia, many of them simply for defending clients whose cases the authorities considered ‘sensitive’, the Gazette has been told.
Georgian lawyers routinely suffer assaults and threats in the course of their work, the Council of Bars and Law Societies (CCBE) conference in Brussels heard last week.
One case concerned Georgian lawyer Mariana Ivelashvili (pictured), who, aged 21 and qualified for two weeks, was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2008 for an alleged fraud. ‘I was accused of taking money from a client – 300 lari, which is about £85 – and doing nothing to earn it,’ she said.
‘I denied the charge and the prosecutor was unable to produce evidence that I had accepted any money. There wasn’t even a lawyer-client contract, but I still went to prison.’
She said that she was victimised because of a long-standing enmity between the prosecutor and her family – her mother is a lawyer and her father a retired judge.
After more than three years in prison, Ivelashvili’s conviction was annulled after protests from human rights and professional organisations, including the CCBE, International Observatory for Lawyers and Union Internationale des Avocats.
Last year, Georgian bar association president Zaza Khatiashvili told pressure group Human Rights House that 140 lawyers, 18 of them women, have been convicted in the country since 2003, when the ‘Rose Revolution’ swept the autocratic Eduard Shevardnadze from office.
Khatiashvili said: ‘Georgia has arrested more lawyers than even Russia or Belarus. Most of the arrested lawyers are convicted either for protesting at the torture and inhuman treatment of their clients or for winning a sensitive case in which the government has a particular interest. Alleged fraud is another common charge.
‘It is useless to petition the president, Ministry of Justice or the prosecutor’s office because the entire system is aimed at crushing lawyers. We appeal instead to the international community and ask it to stop our government persecuting lawyers.’
He added that Georgia’s persistent targeting of lawyers was ‘catastrophic’ given its wish to join the EU and NATO.