Georgian Opposition Leader Released In Tbilisi After EU Posts His Bail

TTBILISI -- The leader of Georgia's opposition United National Movement (ENM) was freed from prison on May 10 after the European Union posted his bail to help end the country's protracted political crisis.

Nika Melia left Rustavi prison after the Tbilisi City Court ruled to release him from pretrial detention after nearly three months.

The EU said over the weekend that it had posted bail of 40,000 laris (more than $11,600) for Melia, allowing for a court in the capital Tbilisi on May 10 to "order the release," his lawyer Dito Sadzaglishvili said.

Supporters and party members waiting for Melia to exit the central gate chanted his name and applauded and waved posters saying “Nika’s time has come!” and “Nika is a strong man,” RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported.

When prison administrators let him walk free through a different gate, journalists quickly relocated. Melia apologized for the disturbance but said he was not to blame.

Melia thanked the ambassadors of the EU and the United States, as well as European Council President Charles Michel.

"I don't know if I look like a criminal or a politician, but in either case, together with my colleagues and society, I will pose a serious threat to the authorities and Bidzina Ivanishvili," said Melia, who appeared to have lost a lot of weight.

"We are facing a ruthless opponent," he said, referring to the ruling Georgian Dream party founded by Ivanishvili, a multibillionaire. "Unfortunately, I am not the last political prisoner in Georgia."

Melia, whose case has roiled the country's political scene, went on trial on April 8 for allegedly organizing "mass violence" during 2019 anti-government protests.

Melia has rejected the charge calling it politically motivated, which the ruling Georgian Dream party denies.

His release was part of an agreement that the ruling Georgian Dream party and opposition leaders signed last month under European Council President Charles Michel's mediation.

The ENM, however, had refused to join the EU-mediated deal until Melia was released from pretrial detention. There was no immediate comment from the party on the court's May 10 ruling.

The political scene in Georgia has been on the brink of crisis since October parliamentary elections dominated by the Georgian Dream party, but which independent monitors said were marred by irregularities.

The opposition has boycotted the new parliament and staged protests demanding new elections.

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The decision to arrest Melia after he refused to pay an increased bail bond led to the resignation of Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia in February.

Gakharia said the decision was unacceptable if it threatened to fuel political divisions in the Caucasus country of 3.7 million people. It also sparked mass protests as well as international condemnation amid mounting fears in the West over the ex-Soviet republic's perceived backsliding on democracy.

The Interior Ministry carried out the arrest on February 23, five days after Gakharia stepped down, which further deepened an ongoing political crisis in the South Caucasus country caused by the parliamentary elections.

The 41-year-old politician faces up to nine years in prison if found guilty.

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