Caspian Region

Georgian Opposition Leader Walks Free After Court Ruling

David Chkhikvishvili
Nika Melia, chairman of the United National Movement (UNM) opposition party, walks out of a prison after a court ordered his release on bail, in Rustavi, Georgia May 10, 2021. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

TBILISI (Reuters) -Jailed Georgian opposition leader Nika Melia walked free on Monday after a court ordered his release on bail, seen as a major step in an EU-backed plan to help end a political crisis.


Speaking to supporters and journalists gathered outside the court in the capital Tbilisi, Melia said he would consult with his party about his next political steps, after domestic media reported that the court had ordered his release from pre-trial detention.


Georgia, an ex-Soviet republic with ambitions to join NATO and other Western organisations, has faced political turmoil since a parliamentary election last November, which the ruling Georgian Dream party won but the opposition called unfair.


Police stormed the offices of Melia's United National Movement (UNM) opposition party in February to detain him over accusations that he fomented violence during anti-government protests in 2019, charges he says are politically motivated.


His arrest prompted then-Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia, in office for just five months, to resign, warning that Melia's detention could worsen political rifts.


Nika Melia, chairman of the United National Movement (UNM) opposition party, who is accused of inciting violence at street protests in June 2019, attends a court hearing in Tbilisi, Georgia April 13, 2021. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

Speaking outside the courtroom Melia said he would consult with the UNM and other political leaders about his next steps.


"It will take some time, a few days to make a decision," he said.


A deal brokered last month by European Union diplomats to help end the crisis foresees the release of people convicted on charges related to the 2019 protests.


The agreement also includes sweeping electoral and judicial reforms, including more power-sharing in parliament, starting from this year's autumn session.