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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

12 Convicted for Tbilisi Coup Attempt

ReutersProtesters holding photos of convicted opposition members outside Georgia's Supreme Court in Tbilisi on Friday.
TBILISI, Georgia -- A Georgian court Friday convicted 12 followers of a pro-Russian opposition leader of plotting an armed government overthrow and sentenced them to prison terms of up to 8 1/2 years.

The defendants, who have dismissed the trial as politically motivated, stayed away from the hearing, and a defense lawyer said they would appeal what he called a "groundless" verdict.

An opposition figure whose testimony was key to the conviction was handed a suspended two-year sentence.

The defendants were detained in September and accused of plotting a coup to replace President Mikheil Saakashvili with Igor Giorgadze, an exiled former security minister wanted in Georgia for purported involvement in an assassination attempt against former President Eduard Shevardnadze.

Giorgadze is believed to be in Russia. Saakashvili has suggested that the coup plot was part of an effort by "certain forces in Russia" to undermine Georgia's independence.

The defendants and other critics of Saakashvili have said the charges are a pretext for a crackdown on opponents.

Maiya Topuria, a relative of Giorgadze by marriage and deputy chief of the opposition Justice party, was sentenced to 8 1/2 years in prison. The party's executive secretary, Revaz Bulia, was sentenced to 4 1/2 years.

The court sentenced Temur Zhorzholiani, leader of the Conservative-Monarchist Party, to seven years and nine other defendants to prison terms ranging from 3 1/2 to eight years.

Maiya Nikoleishvili, leader of a loose coalition of parties called the anti-Soros movement, was given a suspended two-year sentence. She had testified in September that coup plans had been discussed at a meeting in the office of the Justice party and was released on bail following her testimony.