A court in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, ordered a top opposition leader to be released late on Thursday after Georgia’s Constitutional Court declared that his 14-month pre-trial detention was illegal.
The opposition leader Gigi Ugulava, who is a former mayor of Tbilisi, had been held in detention since July 2014 charged with misspending state funds. However, he has rejected the accusations as being politically motivated. Ugulava faces ongoing trials on corruption charges including money laundering and misspending public funds.
Ugulava’s supporters, friends and members of his opposition United National Movement filled the courtroom. Applause broke out when the judge announced the decision to free him.
The order came from the judge a day after the Consitutional Court declared that pre-trial detention is limited to nine months legally and Ugulava has overrun his time. The judge said the authorities were breaking the law by keeping him behind bars.
His lawyer, Beka Basilaia said he was worried that Ugulava would be re-arrested quickly.
"The authorities and judges act in collusion and Gigi Ugulava's fresh imprisonment seems imminent," Basilaia told AFP.
"Ruling coalition leaders have already publicly announced that my client will soon be convicted and jailed."
Ugulava, 40, was prosecuted after his United National Movement party lost legislative elections to the current ruling Georgian Dream coalition in 2012. As he was leaving the court, Ugulava promised his supporters he would defeat Georgian Dream in the 2016 parliamentary elections.
"They have billions in their hands, they have power in their hands, but they will have a defeat in their hands too," he said.
"Our victory and the victory of all the pro-European forces is inevitable."
Western countries have complained that the current government has politically persecuted opponents and used justice selectively.