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10 Georgian anti-government protesters jailed

21 November 2019
Giga Makarashvili, For Freedom activist at the protest held on 17 November. (Mari Nikuradze / OC Media)

Amidst protracted preliminary court hearings, 10 of the 37 people arrested following the protests on Monday have been sentenced to administrative imprisonment. Opposition groups have called for their release and vow to restart street protests next week. 

Activists inside the Tbilisi City Court met news of the sentences, ranging from three to 13 days of administrative arrest, with shouted slurs against ruling Georgian Dream party chair Bidzina Ivanishvili. Others shouted that the presiding judge Valeriane Pilishvli was Ivanishvili’s ‘slave’. 

Judge Pilishvili made the rulings in the early hours of 21 November. 

Two of the defendants were not sent to administrative detention. One was released and fined ₾1,000 ($335) while another was released with a verbal warning.

For the moment, Tbilisi City Court has not yet processed the cases of the remaining 25 defendants and has postponed their hearings. 

Opposition groups rallied in front of the government building in Tbilisi today and hung a padlock on one of the gates of the Government Chancellery building. 

Padlocks have become the symbol of the opposition’s rejection of the government and the parliament majority under Georgian Dream party after they backtracked on their promise to reform the electoral system on 14 November.

The change of heart triggered four days of rallies and a blockade of the Parliament building. The activists were apprehended when riot police dispersed the protest on Monday.  

[Read more on OC Media: Riot police deploy water cannons to clear Georgian Parliament of protesters]

Recently, the Socialists and Democrats Group and the European People's Party joined the United States and the EU in criticism of Georgian Dream’s backtracking on their electoral reforms promise. 

Songs and curses

On the night of 19 November, Giga Makarashvili, one of the leaders of the anti-government group For Freedom (also known as In Service of Country) sang the national anthem of Georgia together with other defendants during the court session. 

Thirty seven individuals, detained on Monday, were charged with petty hooliganism and disobeying police. Each charge is punishable with a fine or up to 15 days of administrative arrest. 

So far, all charges of petty hooliganism against those processed have been dismissed by the court. Charges of disobeying police, however, have been sustained.  

During the preliminary court hearings on Monday, several of those detained have claimed that police abused their power by punching and kicking them, as well as cursing at them. 

Only one of the 37 who were arrested, Girchi party leader Zurab Japaridze, was released several hours after his detention after he supplied a written promise to appear in court. The rest were held in pre-trial detention for over 12 hours before their hearing.

Supporters, including Zurab Japaridze (with a cap), waiting for the end of court hearings at 20 November night. Image: Tamta Gogoladze / Facebook

According to Nona Kurdovanidze from the Georgian Young Lawyers' Association, the detainees’ attorneys were not given reasonable time to familiarise themselves with the evidence. 

Activists accused Valeriane Pilishvili, the judge presiding over their cases, of being controlled by the government and being part of a pro-government ‘clan’ in the judiciary.

[Read more on OC Media: The ‘clan’ in Georgia’s judiciary reattempt lifetime appointments]

On 21 November, in a joint assessment, 18 local rights groups said that the 18-21 November court proceedings were marked with 'grave violations' and bias against the defendants and their lawyers. 

'The judge halted the hearings and exited the court for unknown reasons; apparently, to receive instructions', the statement reads. 

Amidst the protracted court hearings, activists retrieved and circulated an alleged Facebook post in which Judge Pilishvili praises the ruling party.

On 21 November, For Freedom member Nodar Rukhadze informed OC Media that those ten activists are to be distributed to detention facilities located in five different Georgian cities: Tbilisi, Rustavi, Mtskheta, Gori, and Marneuli. 

‘We’ll still padlock you’

Following the crackdown protesters blockading the parliament, opposition groups announced that they would hold a new rally on Monday and vowed to block the entrances to the Parliament again on Tuesday.

‘We’ll still padlock you’, Giorgi Vashadze, Chair of For New Georgia party warned the government on Tuesday. 

Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia responded by saying that the interior ministry would respond as they did on Monday, in case the opposition groups follow through on their threat. 

While cancelling ‘non-stop’ demonstrations until 25 November, some of the opposition groups resumed their protest in Tbilisi on Wednesday by hanging a symbolic padlock on Chief Prosecutor’s Office gates and attempting to do the same at Tbilisi City Court.

Guram Chalagashvili from the Victorious Georgia party, who hung a padlock on the gates, accused the authorities of engaging in political prosecutions, including the recently launched investigation against Giorgi Rurua, co-founder of opposition TV channel Mtavari Arkhi and a supporter of the anti-government campaign recently led by the For Georgia group.

Guram Chalagashvili, a member of Victorious Georgia party, hanging a padlock at the gate. Screengrab from TV channel Rustavi 2
Photo: Mari Nikuradze / OC Media

About an hour before the riot police started dispersing crowds near the parliament on 18 November, Rurua was apprehended by police for alleged illegal arms possession. 

The opposition has claimed that police had planted the arms. 

Victorious Georgia also claimed their founder and party chair Iraki Okruashvili was a victim of politically motivated legal actions by the authorities. 

Okruashvili, the former Georgian senior official, was arrested and remanded in pre-trial detention in July over clashes between protesters and police on 20 June. 

On 19 November, the state prosecution also charged Okruashvili with abuse of power, for an alleged cover-up of a police killing, during his stint as Georgia’s Interior Minister in 2004. 

[Read more on OC Media: Five Georgian officials convicted over Robakidze killing cover-up]

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