Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili has pardoned a prominent opposition journalist who spent more than a year in jail, amid pressure from the EU, US and international NGOs seeking to secure his release.
in a statement Broadcast late Thursday, the president of the South Caucasian nation announced that she had “signed the act of pardon for Nikoloz Gvaramia,” a high-profile government critic who was sentenced to three and a half years behind bars in May. of 2022.
Zourabichvili said he made the decision to intervene after the Supreme Court refused to hear Gvaramia’s appeal. “I am not going to give any explanation for this decision, it is my discretionary right and I am exercising it today,” he added.
In a statement following Zourabichvili’s decision, European Council President Charles Michel received the pardon “as an essential step towards depolarization in Georgia.”
Despite publicly stated ambition to join the EU, Georgia’s application has stalled in recent years amid warnings from Brussels that its progress in upholding the rule of law and human rights faces “setbacks”, and amid fears that the Georgian Dream party-ruled country is seeking closer economic relations with Russia.
In early May this year, the government faced huge protests over plans to adopt a Kremlin-style bill on alleged foreign influence. While Georgian Dream eventually abandoned the legislation amid massive protest by protesters and condemnation from the EU and US, police continued to crack down on anti-government demonstrations.
Zourabichvili, directly elected in 2018 after campaigning as an independent, has been at loggerheads with the ruling party on several issues, expressing concern over its growing ties to the Kremlin. While the president’s role is largely ceremonial, pardons are one area in which he can make independent decisions.
Georgian authorities have accused Gvaramia, a former parliamentarian and justice minister, of abusing his power as director of the independent radio station Rustavi 2. He has always denied the charges, and press rights groups have called them “political”. The United States has previously expressed “deep concern” over the case.
“We are delighted that Nika Gvaramia has been pardoned,” said Gulnoza Said, regional coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists. “He should never have been jailed, and his continued jailing of him contradicted the country’s supposed commitment to press freedom.”