Case of European Court of Human Rights, March 26, 2020 (case AMIRIDZE v. GEORGIA)

Defense:GEORGIA
Resolution Date:March 26, 2020
SUMMARY

Violation of Article 34 - Individual applications (Article 34 - Hinder the exercise of the right of application)

 
FREE EXCERPT

FIFTH SECTION

CASE OF AMIRIDZE v. GEORGIA

(Application no. 15351/09)

JUDGMENT

STRASBOURG

26 March 2020

This judgment is final but it may be subject to editorial revision.

In the case of Amiridze v. Georgia,

The European Court of Human Rights (Fifth Section), sitting as a Committee composed of:

Ganna Yudkivska, President,Yonko Grozev,Lado Chanturia, judges,and Victor Soloveytchik, Deputy Section Registrar,

Having regard to:

the application against Georgia lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by a Georgian national, Mr Zaza Amiridze (“the applicant”), on 13 March 2009;

the decision to give notice of the complaints concerning the alleged insufficient reasoning of the judgments convicting the applicant, and the alleged hindrance by the State in the effective exercise of the applicant’s right of application to the Georgian Government (“the Government”) and to declare inadmissible the remainder of the application;

the parties’ observations;

Having deliberated in private on 3 March 2020,

Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:

INTRODUCTION

  1. The case concerns, in substance, the alleged inadequacy of reasons provided in the judgments convicting the applicant, and the alleged interference by the State with the effective exercise of the applicant’s right of application by means of, among other things, compromising his ability to communicate in full confidence with his lawyers.

    THE FACTS

  2. The applicant was born in 1977 and lives in Gori. He was represented by Ms L. Mukhashavria, Mr N. Kvaratskhelia and Mr G. Mariamidze, lawyers practising in Georgia.

  3. The Government were represented by their Agent, Mr B. Dzamashvili, of the Ministry of Justice.

  4. The facts of the case, as submitted by the parties, may be summarised as follows.

  5. On 6 December 2006 Ms J.I. (“the victim”), a national of Kyrgyzstan, notified the police that she had been a victim of human trafficking. She implicated the applicant and a certain Ms A.M. According to the victim, she had been A.M.’s guest, together with two other women, also nationals of Kyrgyzstan, and A.M. and the applicant had forced her into prostitution.

  6. On 7 December 2006 Ms N.E. and Ms N.U., nationals of Kyrgyzstan who had been staying at A.M.’s home, confirmed the victim’s account of events. They stated, among other things, that the victim had been forced by the applicant and A.M. to engage in sexual activities with men in exchange for money. That money would subsequently be split between the applicant and A.M.

  7. On 7 December 2006 the applicant was arrested. During his questioning on the same date, the applicant noted that he had met three women at A.M.’s place. He had not inquired about their identity or where they were from. According to the applicant, they all went to a restaurant, but he never assaulted any of the three women.

  8. On 7 December 2006 R.Ts. was questioned. He stated that he had come to know the three women staying at A.M.’s place through the applicant who had brought them to a restaurant on one occasion. According to R.Ts., he became friends with one of the three women. She told him that the victim wanted to escape, fearing physical retribution from the applicant for having lost his phone, and R.Ts. helped her to leave the city.

  9. On 8 December 2006 the applicant was charged, together with A.M., with human trafficking. According to the charges, the victim was staying at A.M.’s home at the latter’s invitation and the applicant used physical force and threats thereof to compel the victim to engage in sexual activities with men in exchange for money. The money would subsequently be split between him and A.M.

  10. On 21 December 2006 Mr V.G. gave a statement to the investigating authorities. He noted that A.M. had been his next-door neighbour and the two had been on friendly terms. According to V.G., in October 2006 A.M. had three female guests: J.I. (the victim), N.E., and N.U., all Kyrgyzstani nationals. One evening V.G. suggested that they all go to a restaurant. The applicant joined them, presenting himself as A.M.’s friend. Towards the end of that evening V.G. asked A.M. to translate to the victim that he would like to spend the night with her. Subsequently V.G. took the victim to A.M.’s home and had sexual intercourse with her. V.G. explained that he had not paid, as A.M. would not have asked him to pay given their friendship. After about a month he learned from one of the two Kyrgyzstani women also staying at A.M.’s place that A.M. and the applicant had been forcing the victim to engage in sexual encounters with men in exchange for money.

  11. During the court hearing of 21 March 2007 the victim confirmed her pre-trial statement, noting that she had been forced into prostitution by the applicant and A.M. On 28 March 2007 N.E. and N.U. changed their statements alleging police pressure at the investigation stage; they now stated that instead of being forced, the victim had actively sought men for sexual encounters in exchange for money.

  12. During the court hearing of 4 April 2007 V.G. retracted his earlier statement stating that he had been drunk at the time of giving the statement and had been misled by the investigator. Subsequently, on 17 April 2007, he submitted a written statement to the Gori City Court, according to which he maintained his pre-trial statement and requested the court to rely on its content. He explained that the retraction had been caused by his pity for A.M., the latter being his next-door neighbour.

  13. On 22 May 2007 the Gori Regional Court found the applicant guilty as charged (see paragraph 9 above), and sentenced him to twelve years’ imprisonment. A ban of three years on his holding a public office or carrying out professional activities was imposed as an additional sentence. A.M. was also found guilty.

  14. The Gori City Court based the applicant’s conviction on various items of evidence, including the search and seizure reports, the victim’s account and the witness testimony. Among other evidence, the court relied on the pre-trial statement given by V.G. (see paragraph 10 above). The Gori City Court noted that the parties had neither contested V.G.’s submissions explaining the retraction (see paragraph 12 above), nor requested that he be recalled as a witness.

  15. As regards the retraction of statements by N.E. and N.U. (compare paragraphs 6 and 11 above), the court did not consider their submissions trustworthy. It noted in this respect that three investigators and one interpreter had stated that no pressure had been exerted on these witnesses, the latter having voluntarily cooperated with the investigation.

  16. The court also took into account the statement given by R.Ts. – the man who helped the victim to escape (see paragraph 8 above). However, it noted that R.Ts. had partly changed his pre-trial statement to suggest that, even if he helped the victim escape, it had been the victim who had proactively sought sexual encounters. The court considered that R.Ts. had altered his initial statement in order to support N.E.’s version of the events as the latter had become his close friend.

  17. The Gori City Court rejected the respective witness statements given by A.M.’s mother and son who had suggested, among other things, that the victim had been seeking sexual encounters voluntarily and to A.M.’s dismay. The Court considered that these statements aimed at shielding A.M. from criminal responsibility. The court further noted that A.M.’s mother had in fact admitted having heard the victim screaming on one occasion and A.M.’s son admitted, contrary to the defendants’ submissions, having witnessed the victim being driven by various men away from their house, where she had been living temporarily.

  18. The applicant appealed on 20 June 2007 arguing that he had not subjected the victim to conditions akin to slavery and that the domestic court had erred in its application of the law and the assessment of the evidence in that regard. He further stated, among other things, that the first-instance court had unfairly rejected witness statements given by A.M.’s mother and son, and had not given...

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