On Friday, Georgia’s parliament passed a law to pardon 3,500 prisoners, including those jailed under President Mikheil Saakashvili.
This decision seems to be part of the power play between the recently appointed Prime Minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, leader of the six-party Georgian Dream which won the October 2012 parliamentary elections, and President Saakashvili, whose party, United National Movement (UNM), was eliminated from the government.
The bill grants pardon to all types of prisoners, including those convicted for high treason, participating in military riots, acting as spies on behalf of Russia as well as those charged with robbery, fraud, theft, drugs and minor crimes. The amnesty will be applicable to individuals who have committed crimes before October 2, 2012. Some of Saakashvili’s critics claim that many of the pardoned prisoners had been politically persecuted.
The UNM representatives were absent during the vote on the bill as they were protesting against the arrest of former officials. Indeed, since his victory in the election, Ivanishvili, has allowed for several members of the former government to be arrested, allegedly for abuse of power. The West has warned Ivanishvili not to resort to the same power tactics as Saakashvili, who has been criticized by his opponents for monopolizing power and abusing critics. UNM representatives have nevertheless stepped out to criticize the law, by claiming it is a hazard to release so many criminals.
In order for the bill to enter into force, it has to be signed by Saakashvili, which he has yet to do The law also advocates for shortening the prison sentences of more than 12,000 other criminals condemned for grave crimes.
While, as president, Saakashvili managed to reduce petty corruption and implemented liberal reforms, he also cracked down on street protests condemning his rule.
Right before the election, a video showing torture, beating and sexual assault in Georgian jails was released, prompting street protests which ultimately helped Ivanishvili to win.
The bill will likely increase tensions between the Georgian President and Prime Minister, who have been bitter political rivals over the years. While no longer seeking to impeach Saakashvili, as he had previously said in 2011, Ivanishvili has nevertheless promised to introduce constitutional changes to significantly cut presidential powers. Ivanishvili also recently accused the President of intending to dismiss the parliament, an accusation which the President nevertheless fully dismissed. Nevertheless, the two Georgian rivaling officials have vowed to work closely together, to ensure the best interest of the Georgian people.