TBILISI -- NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says the "rule of law" should be applied in legal proceedings against Georgian political figures.
It’s the second time this week that Rasmussen has mentioned the investigations launched against Georgia's former Interior Minister Bacho Akhalaia (who was defense minister at the time the alleged action took place), armed forces Chief of Joint Staff Giorgi Kalandadze, and Georgian Army brigade commander Zurab Shamatava.
The three were arrested last week and charged with abuse of office.
All three worked under President Mikheil Saakashvili.
The NATO secretary-general addressed the issue at a news conference in Brussels on November 14 with visiting Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.
"I am concerned [that] if these trials are perceived to be politically motivated, that could be damaging for the image of the country and the government," Rasmussen said. "Even if it's not true. That's my concern."
On November 12, Rasmussen discussed his concerns during a meeting in Prague of NATO's Parliamentary Assembly, saying that the alliance would "follow that development very, very closely."
Earlier, on November 9, a Georgian court released Kalandadze and Shamatava on bail, but left Akhalaia in pretrial detention.
Akhalaia was ordered to remain in custody for two months.
Three days later, Georgia's prosecutor-general lodged new charges against Akhalaia and Kalandadze.
Akhalaia was charged with the torture and illegal incarceration of soldiers and Kalandadze was charged with abuse of power in a second incident.
According to the Prosecutor-General’s Office, Akhalaia personally ordered several soldiers to be locked in a military bathhouse without beds, heating, and food for three nights in February 2010.
Investigators say Kalandadze was aware of the order but did nothing about it.
On November 14, several dozen members of President Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement party picketed a maximum security jail in Tbilisi to protest Akhalaia's transfer there from a pretrial detention center.
Cooperation 'Vital' For Georgia
Saakashvili's party lost its majority in parliament after its election defeat last month by Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream coalition.
Rasmussen called on both the president and prime minister to cooperate with each other.
"The true test of democracy is the ability of different actors to work together for the good of the country," he said. "As I told President Saakashvili on November 12, I strongly urge both of you, prime minister, to cooperate and make cohabitation work in full respect for the constitution in the months to come. This is vital for the Georgian people and for Georgia's future."
Ivanishvili told Rasmussen that Georgia would continue its full cooperation with NATO, including in Afghanistan, where about 1,000 Georgian soldiers are stationed.
The prime minister added that the trials of military officials in Georgia will be transparent and will be conducted in accordance with all legal norms.
He added that "Georgia's previous government will continue its attempts to present the ongoing investigations as politically motivated, but that will be hard to do."
Ivanishvili's trip to Brussels -- less than two weeks after taking office – is widely seen as a signal to the West that ties with NATO and Europe, rather than Russia, remain Georgia's top priority.
The 56-year-old billionaire businessman made most of his fortune in Russia. He has promised to improve relations with Moscow, which were damaged in 2008 after a brief war between the two countries.
With reporting by Apsny.ge, Interfax, and ITAR-TASS