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On 14 October 2016, on air on Imedi TV, United National Movement member, Irakli Abesadze, talked about the imprisonment of United National Movement supporters during the Marneuli incident. “The Minister of Internal Affairs of Georgia called the 20 year-old boys criminals despite the fact that their culpability has not yet been confirmed and they were only imprisoned as a preventative measure. We can compare this to the Kortskheli incident where we had a physical confrontation with several people, including one Member of the Parliament of Georgia, being injured and the police were respectfully inviting suspects for questioning for over a week,” said Mr Abesadze.

FactCheck

verified the accuracy of this statement.

The first round of the 2016 Parliamentary elections in Georgia was especially dramatic at the 48th

polling station of the Marneuli Municipality (village of Kizilajlo) which resulted in all of the votes being disqualified and a repeat first round voting being planned for 22 October 2016. On election day a group of young people gathered near the polling station and tried to forcefully gain entry. They threw stones at representatives of law enforcement structures with several police officers suffering injuries.

According to the statement of United National Movement MP candidate, Akhmed Imamkuliev, voter discontent was caused by the Georgia Dream’s attempt to rig the election process whilst the party’s Executive Secretary, Irakli Kobakhidze, maintained that United National Movement activists attacked the 48th polling station in Marneuli in order to take the ballot box and disrupt the voting process. The proceedings on the case were initiated based upon Article 1621

of the Criminal Code of Georgia which deals with matters of violence or the threat of violence during the voting procedure at a polling station or nearby places. It should be noted that this article was added to the Criminal Code on 24 June 2016 after the Kortskheli incident.

As a result of the 13 October 2016 special operation conducted by the Kvemo Kartli Police Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia using Special Forces units, six United National Movement supporters were arrested on the decision of Rustavi City Court for disrupting the work of the election commission and resisting law enforcement structures (crimes described in Article 163 and Article 353 of the Criminal Code of Georgia). According to lawyer Davit Kakoishvili’s statement, three of those arrested by the police were beaten. “They were subject to inappropriate treatment, they were beaten with the police demanding that they confess to the crimes of which they are accused,” stated Mr Kakoishvili. The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia denies these allegations. “There is ample evidence in the form of written minutes and photos,” reads a Ministry special statement.

The opposition accuses the ruling party of using selective justice. “There was havoc in the whole of Samegrelo, Kutaisi and elsewhere. Did they go to someone and interrogate them when journalists were being beaten and their cameras broken? This is a simple display of power and an attempt to instil fear,” said United National Movement member, Gigi Tsereteli. The form of the arrests has also raised some questions among civil society as well. According to the opinion of several non-governmental organisations, the arrests of these people using the Special Forces units does indeed look like a show of force by the state. “The type of operation which was covered by the media is different from the types that law enforcement structures are using when detaining supporters of the governing party. This could be linked to an attempt of the government to show its power to opposition supporters,” said the Chairman of the Georgian Democracy Initiative, Giorgi Mshvenieradze.

The Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Georgia, Shalva Khutsishvili, stated that the force used in this case was proportionate and necessary. “We used the Special Forces because we saw that the lives of police officers were in danger in Kizilajlo during which, by international standards, Special Forces are used and those who resist them will get what these suspects got,” stated Mr Khutsishvili.

On 22 May 2016, during local government by-elections, a physical confrontation took place at the Kortskheli polling station in the Zugdidi Municipality. Several members of the United National Movement, including Giga Bokeria and Nika Melia, were injured during the incident. Law enforcement structures reacted differently in this case. According to the statement of the members of the United National Movement, Georgian Dream “Sonderkommandos” also participated in the incident. Later, those participating in the confrontation confirmed that they were Georgian Dream supporters.

Proceedings on the Kortskheli incident were initiated based upon Point 1 of Article 125 of the Criminal Code of Georgia which deals with beatings and is punishable by fines or corrective social work. As a result of civil protest, the crime was reclassified and five people participating in the incident were accused of crimes described in Article 239 of the Criminal Code; namely, hooliganism and one person for a graver offence (Points 2 and 3 of Article 239 of the Criminal Code of Georgia refer to hooliganism with regard to law enforcement structures or any other person trying to disrupt a crime using firearms or any other types of weapons and is punishable by imprisonment from four to seven years.)

Based upon the request of the Prosecutor’s Office, Zugdidi Municipality Court decided to release these prisoners on bail (GEL 7,000 for five of them and GEL 10,000 for one). According to the statement of the Prosecutor, the harshest methods of detention were not used as the accused turned themselves in to the police on their own accord and there was no possibility of them hiding from investigation.

It should be noted that unlike the Kortskheli incident, the harshest possible measure was used against those participating in the Marneuli incident; that is, imprisonment. Georgian Dream members expressed their satisfaction with this kind of measure. The Minister of Justice of Georgia, Tea Tsulukiani, also welcomed the use of imprisonment as a detention measure. During the Kortskheli incident, on the other hand, members of the ruling party said that imprisonment was not used as a detention measure because of international recommendations. “Georgia was given the recommendation to use preliminary detention as little as possible. The fact that the Prosecutor’s Office is not asking for preliminary detention is a correct decision. There is no reason to use imprisonment in this case,” said Eka Beselia when commenting about the Kortskheli incident.

The approaches of the Minister of Internal Affairs of Georgia also differed from case to case. For example, he refrained from a legal assessment during the Kortskheli case and called upon the public to wait for the finalisation of the investigations whilst he said that those individuals accused of disrupting the voting process in the Marneuli case were criminals. “They are ordinary criminals who dared to raise their hands to the police,” said Mr Mghebrishvili. It should be noted that according to the Constitution of Georgia, a person is considered innocent until his culpability is proven by a legal decision of the court using all of the appropriate legal procedures. The culpability of the United National Movement’s supporters has not yet been proven by a court decision which means that the Minister of Internal Affairs of Georgia’s statement is not only an example of selective justice but a violation of human rights as well. The Minister’s speaking about this incident with such certainty is highly inappropriate especially given the fact that first round voting will be held again in Marneuli at the polling station where the incident took place with the high possibility for a second round.

Conclusion

The Kortskheli and Marneuli incidents were followed by differing approaches from both law enforcement structures and politicians. It should be pointed out that the suspects in the Kortskheli incident were supporters of the ruling party whilst in Marneuli they were supporters of the United National Movement.

Of special note are the approaches of the Minister of Internal Affairs of Georgia who refrained from a legal assessment during the Kortskheli incident but stated that those accused of disrupting the voting process in the Marneuli incident were criminals, thereby completely disregarding the principle of the presumption of innocence.

Hence, FactCheck concludes that Irakli Abesadze’s statement is TRUE.

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