Masked police raided two popular Tbilisi nightclubs, Bassiani and Café Gallery under the pretence of detaining drug traffickers on the night of 11 May. Police forcibly removed club-goers from the venues and clashes ensued.
According to the Interior Ministry’s statement, eight suspected drug traffickers aged 21–30 were arrested following three-month-long ‘intensive investigative activities’ in several Tbilisi nightclubs.
More people were detained in the aftermath of the raids, including drug policy liberalisation proponents Beka Tsikarishvili from pro-reform White Noise Movement and Zurab Japaridze from Girchi party. According to the police, all detainees have already been released. At least one person was hospitalised.
Chaos ensued following the forceful dispersal of a spontaneous rally in front of Bassiani following the club-goers’ removal from the venue. Police used violence against the protesters and several journalists were reported injured during the brawl, including OC Media’s journalist.
— OC Media (@OCMediaorg) May 11, 2018
The dispersal of the rally (Dominik K. Cagara /OC Media)
The rally then moved to in front of the parliament building on Rustaveli Avenue where it continued until 7 a.m. under heavy police presence. Several more people were detained.
During a briefing held at the Ministry of Internal Affairs later on 12 May, the ministry spokesperson said that during the three-month-long investigation the ministry made ‘control purchases’ of drugs and explained that the special operation at the clubs started at a time when drug deals were expected. The MIA also released video clips depicting alleged drug dealing and explained that court order had been issued for secret video surveillance.
The White Noise Movement responded during a press-conference that it was a ‘delibarate provocation’ against nightclubs and claimed that the evidence provided by the MIA was staged and fabricated.
The raids follow a recent controversy regarding drug policy liberalisation after at least four people died from unknown drug use. The deaths have intensified calls to shut down Bassiani, an alleged drug trafficking point. Bassiani rejected the allegations on 7 May and wrote that the Georgian club scene was being targeted and discredited by ‘regressive’ and ‘pro-Russia forces’.
[Read more on OC Media: Government pushes back at policy reform as drugs claim at least 4 lives in Georgia]
The raids also came hours after former Prime Minister’s Bidzina Ivanishvili’s appointment as the ruling Georgian Dream party’s leader. The opposition United National Movement earlier claimed that Ivanishvili’s son Bera Ivanishvili owned the club, which he immediately denied.
Former Energy Minister in Georgian Dream’s government and current Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze has been a vocal proponent of developing club culture in Tbilisi making it one of the pillars of his election campaign in the autumn of 2017.