We are writing to urge you to ensure that Georgia fully respects its international obligations in relation to the guarantee of a fair and public trial in the case of defendants Maia Topuria and 12 others. We are concerned that the right of the defendants to a fair trial and with it public confidence are at risk given the court’s recent decision to close all of the trial’s hearings to the public.

We are aware that the defendants have plead not-guilty to the charges of plotting to overthrow the Georgian government and that their trial started on March 19, 2007 in the Tbilisi City Court and was postponed to March 26. We also learned that on March 26 the court granted the prosecution’s motion to close the entire trial to the public, reportedly in order to protect secret witnesses for the prosecution.

Public scrutiny is a crucial element of the right to a fair trial guaranteed under the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (Article 14) and the European Convention of Human Rights (Article 6). The public character of court proceedings represents a significant safeguard against the administration of justice in secret and serves as an important means for public confidence in justice. The European Court of Human Rights repeatedly affirmed

in its rulings that “By rendering the administration of justice visible, publicity contributes to the achievement of the aim of ... a fair hearing, the guarantee of which is one of the foundations of a democratic society.”

International human rights law does however acknowledge that there may be circumstances in which limitations may legitimately be placed on the open and public nature of the trial to protect the safety or privacy of witnesses. However, in order for such limitations to be legitimate they must be only to the extent strictly necessary, and if a less restrictive measure can suffice then that measure should be applied.

It follows that in order for Georgia to meet its international legal obligations that it must be able to justify why this extreme measure was sought and explain why other measures, such as limited closed sessions or witness protection measures would not suffice.

Human Rights Watch is concerned that closing the entire hearing will violate the defendants’ right to a fair trial. We urge you to look into the matter and act in accordance with international legal standards and the best of public interest and confidence.

Thank you for your consideration of the letter and the issues raised in it.

Sincerely,

Holly Cartner
Executive Director
Europe and Central Asia division

Cc:

Mr. Konstantine Kublashvili, Supreme Court Chair
Mr. Zurab Adeishvili, Prosecutor General of Georgia