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On 16 January 2014, the Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Gharibashvili, met with journalists. At the meeting, Irakli Gharibashvili commented on the widespread information about Vano Merabishvili being pulled out of his cell and stated:  “As for the video tapes, this was a provocation. Merabishvili met his lawyer on Saturday, Sunday and Monday and could have informed him about the incident. This once again confirms and reinforces our suspicions that Merabishvili might have had information about the video recordings being kept for only 24 hours, specifically in the seventh penitentiary. You can obtain the evidence proving that the lawyer was there. You can address Sozar Subari’s office.”

FactCheck

set out to verify whether or not Vano Merabishvili’s lawyers visited him in prison on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

On Tuesday, 17 December, during his trial, Vano Merabishvili declared that on late Friday, at 2:30 am, he was pulled out of the prison. Merabishvili’s lawyers requested the videos recorded by the surveillance systems on the given day. The Ministry of Corrections of Georgia released a statement on this issue almost one month later on 14 January:  “As for the surveillance video materials, recorded at the No. 9 Penitentiary and the Department of Corrections, the recordings of December 13 and 14 no longer existed on 17 December 2013 when Ivane Merabishvili made his statement as the video-surveillance technical equipment installed throughout the buildings automatically erases the old footage every 24 hours due to the making of new recordings.”

Vano Merabishvili responded to Irakli Gharibashvili’s statement of 16 January and declared:  “Yesterday, while meeting with journalists, the Prime Minister, Irakli Gharibashvili, stated that on the second and the third days after I was kidnapped from the prison, that is on Saturday and Sunday, my lawyers visited me in prison and thus, I had a chance to tell them about the pressure I faced. I would like to declare with full responsibility that neither on Saturday (14 December) nor on Sunday (15 December) did I meet with my lawyers. Moreover, during my detention of eight months, not on a single Saturday or Sunday did I have the chance to meet my lawyers or other guests as on weekends no visitors are allowed in the Penitentiary facility No. 9. If in the future the administration of the prison reconsiders this practice and allows me to receive visitors on weekends, I will be only grateful.”

Vano Merabishvili’s lawyers also commented upon Irakli Gharibashvili’s statement. According to one of Merabishvili’s lawyers, Giorgi Chiviashvili:  “None of us have visited Ivane Merabishvili on weekends, we are not provided this opportunity; therefore, we ask the Ministry of Corrections to publish the copies of all the issued passes and present the public with the registration journals containing information on our entries into the prison. This will show once again that the information about the lawyers allegedly entering the prison on weekends to visit Mr. Merabishvili does not correspond to the truth.”

In the course of studying the abovementioned issue, FactCheck first explored the legal grounds of the matter. The Law of Georgia – the Imprisonment Code (

as of 25 December 2013) establishes the rules and conditions for the enforcement of the ruling of the Court on criminal law cases regarding deprivation of liberty, guarantees of legal protection of accused and convicted persons, regulates the activities of the bodies executing pre-trial detention and the deprivation of liberty, and defines the rules and conditions for the participation of state bodies, civic organisations and citizens in the enforcement of the pre-trial detention and deprivation of liberty (Article 3, Paragraph 1).

The accused/convicted has the right of meeting with close relatives (visit), defence lawyer, consular and other diplomatic representative (in case of foreign citizens) as well as telephone conversations and mail correspondence (Article 14, Paragraph 1).

The accused/convicted has the right to meet with a lawyer without any limitation or intervention (Article 18, Paragraph 1).

Article 49 of Decree No. 97 of the Minister of Corrections of Georgia (dated 30 May 2011) regulates the issues concerning meetings of the accused/convicted with a defence lawyer. The abovementioned Article also confirms that an accused/convicted person has a right to meet his/her defence lawyer without any restrictions, interference or censorship. There should be no barriers in the room between an accused and a lawyer.

As can be seen, the Law does not forbid the visits of lawyers in the penitentiary facilities on weekends. For further explanations, we contacted Vano Merabishvili’s lawyer, Giorgi Chiviashvili. According to Chiviashvili, despite the rights envisaged by the law, the defence lawyers cannot enter the prison on weekends. The bureau issuing passes for visitors is not working on these days and without the passes it is impossible to enter the penitentiary facilities. In addition, Chiviashvili confirmed that the lawyers visited the defendant, Merabishvili, on Monday.

Exploring the matter farther, FactCheck

also addressed the Ministry of Corrections. We sent a letter to the Ministry on 20 January 2014 requesting public information on the following:

  • Did Vano Merabishvili’s lawyers enter the penitentiary facility on 13, 14, 15 and 16 December? If yes, at what time did they enter and how long did they stay there?
  • Please provide a copy of the registration journal of the defendant’s visits for the abovementioned dates.

We received a confirmation note from the Ministry that they had received our letter. However, despite our relentless efforts, neither within the dates envisaged by the law (ten days) nor after this period did we get any official response from the Ministry (Department of Penitentiary).

Conclusion The research revealed that according to the law, lawyers had the right to visit Vano Merabishvili in prison without any obstruction. However, this proved to be impossible to accomplish since, as stated by the lawyers, the bureau of the prison responsible for issuing visitor passes does not work on weekends and, thus, entering the prison is physically impossible on these days. The fact that the indicated bureau is not operating on weekends in Penitentiary No. 9 was verified in person for FactCheck

by an official representative of the institution. Therefore, the lawyers would not have been able to visit Merabishvili on 14-15 December.

Additionally, Merabishvili’s lawyer, Giorgi Chiviashvili, confirmed that he was indeed visiting the penitentiary institution on Monday. In this regard, the context of Gharibashvili’s statement should be taken into consideration as well. In particular, the essence of his statement implies that Ivane Merabishvili allegedly possessed information about the video recordings being kept for only 24 hours in the penitentiary facility in which he is detained. Therefore, he deliberately abstained from issuing any statement on the matter until the expiration of the time period when the video recordings could still be retrieved. However, it follows from the abovementioned that releasing any statement on this incident on Monday, equally as on Sunday, would have been pointless since the 24-hour period would have already had passed. The issuing of the statement could have served its purpose only on Saturday although, as has been established in the course of our query, Merabishvili’s lawyers had virtually no chance of entering the prison on the weekend and passing on this information from their defendant to the public. Therefore, there is no substantial difference between this statement being voiced by Merabishvili’s lawyers on Monday or by the defendant himself at the trial held on Tuesday.

The lack of response from the Ministry of Corrections to our official letter also raises further suspicions, especially considering the fact that the Prime Minister himself  instructed journalists to address Sozar Subari’s office for the relevant evidence. Owing to the abovementioned, FactCheck

is compelled to make conclusions without the official position of the Ministry of Corrections. Although, we once again express our readiness to cooperate with the said government body and, in the case of their official response to our letter, to reconsider our conclusion, as well as the verdict, provided such necessity emerges.

Based upon all the aforementioned, we conclude that Irakli Gharibashvili’s statement:  “As for the video tapes, this was a provocation. Merabishvili met his lawyer on Saturday, Sunday and Monday and could have informed him about the incident. This once again confirms and reinforces our suspicions that Merabishvili might have had information about the video recordings being kept for only 24 hours specifically in the seventh penitentiary. You can obtain the evidence proving that the lawyer was there, you can address Sozar Subari’s office,” is Lie.

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