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Georgian Opposition Politician Accuses Officials Of Pressuring Judge

Giorgi Rurua (center) pictured in a Tbilisi courtroom.
Giorgi Rurua (center) pictured in a Tbilisi courtroom.

TBILISI -- Georgian opposition figure Giorgi Rurua has accused officials of pressuring the judge in a case over an illegal weapon possession charge that threatens to disrupt a foreign-brokered deal with the ruling party on electoral reforms.

Rurua told the court on June 24 as his trial resumed in Tbilisi that the pistol in the case had been planted in his vehicle. The case has been met with harsh criticism by opposition politicians, who along with Rurua have called the charge fake and believe it is politically motivated.

Rurua, the founder and a shareholder of the opposition-aligned Mtavari Arkhi TV, was arrested on November 18, 2019, and charged with the illegal purchase, possession, and carrying of a firearm.

In mid-May, after President Salome Zurabishvili pardoned two opposition politicians -- Gigi Ugulava, the leader of the European Georgia-Movement for Freedom and a former mayor of Tbilisi; and former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, who leads the opposition Victorious Georgia party -- many thought that Rurua also would be released.

Such a move would have met the demands by the opposition, who had threatened to abandon the foreign-brokered deal between the opposition and the ruling party on election reforms if "political prisoners" were not freed.

The sides have failed to move forward since the deal on electoral reforms was inked on March 8, triggering what Zurabishvili called a “political crisis” that has threatened the “democratic and European future” of the South Caucasus nation.

Georgia’s opposition parties claim the release was a condition of the deal, which the governing Georgian Dream party denies.

Opposition parties insisted that Georgia's electoral system unfairly favored Georgian Dream, and demanded it be changed to a proportional system ahead of parliamentary elections set for October this year.

Under the March 8 memorandum of understanding facilitated by U.S. and European Union officials, parliament should consist of 120 members elected through a proportional voting system, while 30 members would be elected through a majority system.

The electoral threshold for proportional elections will be set at 1 percent and a capping mechanism will mean that no single party receiving less than 40 percent of the votes cast will be allowed to hold a majority of seats in parliament.

Under the current electoral system, 73 of 150 parliamentary seats are claimed by candidates who finish first in district races. The remaining seats are distributed proportionally to the national share of the vote that a party wins.

This led to Georgian Dream, led by billionaire founder Bidzina Ivanishvili, winning 76 percent of the legislature's seats even though it won just less than half of the popular vote.