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Rights Body Amnesty Says Georgia Lacks Judicial Independence

FILE - Protesters carry Georgian flags and a poster showing a caricature of former Prime Minister billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili during a march in support of Rustavi 2 TV channel in Tbilisi, Georgia, Feb. 10, 2017.

Georgia lacks judicial independence and concerns persist over selective justice in the ex-Soviet state, rights watchdog Amnesty International said Thursday in its annual country report for 2016.

It listed several court cases, including an ownership dispute over Georgia's biggest independent television station Rustavi 2 and detention of ex-premier Vano Merabishvili, as attempts to silence critical voices in the country.

Thousands of Georgians rallied Sunday in the capital Tbilisi in support of Rustavi 2. Government officials have denied involvement in the case.

"Concerns over the lack of judicial independence and selective justice were raised, by both local and international observers," Amnesty said in the report.

Amnesty said the trial took place after the statute of limitations had expired and it was "widely believed to have been supported by the current government with a view to depriving" the opposition UNM of its "main mouthpiece" ahead of the parliamentary elections in October 2016.

The report said freedom of peaceful assembly remained largely unrestricted in Georgia, but noted that the country failed to establish an independent investigation mechanism for human rights violations committed by law enforcement bodies.

Dozens of former state officials have been convicted in Georgia on various charges, including misspending funds, since a government led by former president Mikheil Saakashvili lost an election in October 2012.

Western countries have aired concerns that the new government has used selective justice and political persecution against opponents in the mountainous country, which is a pivot of geopolitical rivalry between Russia and the West.

Georgia is seeking closer links with both NATO and the European Union.