Statement on Nika Melia’s Case
We would like to comment on the ongoing criminal case against Nika Melia and the recent events. Today, on February 16th, the Parliament is discussing stripping Melia of parliamentary immunity, which will make it possible to use detention as a pretrial restriction measure against him. It is our opinion that Nika Melia’s case must not be assessed in the context of a single procedural measure in the process of the investigation. Rather, the case must be considered in the context of the ongoing investigation of the dispersal of the anti-occupation protest rally by the police on 20 June 2019. The analysis of the investigation conducted by the relevant agencies so far points to signs of selective justice. This kind of selective prosecution against the chairperson of the largest opposition party will seriously harm democracy in the country and further polarise the political environment. We, therefore, call on the Parliament of Georgia not to consent to the use of detention against Nika Melia.
The dispersal on 20 June 2019 of the anti-occupation protest rally by the law enforcement bodies which used disproportionate force and committed grave violations of human rights in the process, revealed, along with other problems, serious systemic shortcomings. Despite the fact that up to 40 journalists and hundreds of citizens were injured, the state has mainly acted against the protesters and the leaders of political opposition, which points to a selective approach and the use of justice as a political instrument. Despite numerous legitimate questions concerning the process of the rally’s dispersal and the abuse of power by the law enforcers, no persons in the law enforcement bodies who gave orders have been identified and held responsible. The report by the Public Defender also points to the flaws in the investigations, stating that the investigative authorities have not conducted important investigative actions. The investigation did not assume a critical stance when questioning the top-ranking officials of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and did not try to establish the extent of responsibility of the authorities.
At the same time, on 25 June 2019, the Prosecutor’s Office charged Nika Melia with leading and participating in group violence during the rally outside of the Parliament building on 20-21 June 2019. On 25 June 2019, the General Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia submitted a request for the Parliament’s consent to use detention against Nika Melia. The request submitted by the General Prosecutor looked like a template and was not sufficiently substantiated. The fact that a non-existent case of the European Court of Human Rights was cited there to support the substantiation provided by the Prosecutor’s Office also points to the document’s being a template. Several other cases concerned such different circumstances that citing them in the context of Nika Melia’s case was completely irrelevant. Despite all of the above, on 26 June 2019, the Parliament, at its extraordinary session and against the background of a boycott on the part of the opposition parties, stripped Melia of parliamentary immunity.
On 27 June 2019, the court imposed a GEL 30,000 bail on Nika Melia as a measure of pre-trial restriction. In addition, he was prohibited from leaving his residence without obtaining a permission and informing the investigation authority, having any communication with witnesses, and making public statements at places of public gathering. An electronic monitoring device was also used on him.
When assessing the aforementioned measures, the Public Defender explained that the restriction of an MP’s freedom of expression may constitute a disproportionate restriction of the exercise of his powers.
On 3 November 2020, the Prosecutor’s Office addressed the court requesting the use of a tougher pretrial measure of restraint. The position of the Prosecutor’s Office was that the removal of the electronic monitoring bracelet by Nika Melia during his speech on 1 November was a violation of the conditions of the pretrial restrictions. The court increased the amount of bail to GEL 70,000 and established a 50-day term for posting the bail, which expired on 23 December. By the same decision, Melia’s electronic monitoring and restriction on public speaking were cancelled and all types of documents were returned to him. However, he was prohibited from leaving the country without giving advance notice to and securing consent from the prosecution. Despite the expiration of the term and Nika Melia’s election as the new chairperson of the United National Movement on 27 December, the Prosecutor’s Office did not act for six weeks. It resumed the proceedings only on 5 February, giving Melia one week to post his bail. On 12 February, it addressed the Parliament with a request to allow the use of detention against him.
It is worth noting that detention can only be used when there is a danger that a defendant might flee, destroy evidence or commit a new crime. In the absence of such danger, the law allows the Prosecutor’s Office to refrain from addressing the court with the request to use detention. When evaluating this issue, the Public Defender noted that the goals and the grounds for detention must be appropriately substantiated. When discussing detention for Nika Melia, the main subject of evaluation must be whether or not there is a need to restrict the actions of the defendant and whether such restrictions serve the interests of justice.
Stripping its member of immunity is a political step on the part of the Parliament. According to the Constitution of Georgia, the Parliament issues advance consent to detain an MP. The Legal Issues Committee said in its conclusion that the Committee gives its consent to the Prosecutor to submit a request to the court. With this wording, the legislative body is trying to diminish the Parliament’s responsibility established by the Constitution with regard to its consent to detain an MP. Correspondingly, the political responsibility for this decision lies fully with the Parliament, and the representative body of the people, rather than fulfilling legal tasks of the Prosecutor’s Office, must take full political responsibility for the detention of the leader of the country’s main opposition party, whose case raises multiple questions. In addition, an extremely serious political crisis prevailing in the country and the process of political negotiations must be considered. These actions are clearly not aimed at resolving the political crisis.
We call on the ruling party to accept the responsibility for the crisis in the country and to take effective steps to resolve it; to refrain from undermining the legislative body’s reputation by an unjust and politically motivated decision; and to refrain from issuing a consent to Nika Melia’s detention. A wrong decision on the part of the Parliament will deepen the existing political crisis and further complicate its resolution.