Two activists opposing the transfer of a state dacha in Abkhazia to Russia have been detained for hanging banners with quotes by Abkhazian figures in Sukhumi (Sukhum).
Ainar Khashig and Rashid Tania from the H-ara H-Pitsunda youth movement were hanging banners with quotes from Fazil Iskander, a Soviet-era half-Abkhaz writer and poet, Vladislav Ardzinba, the first president of Abkhazia, and excerpts from the constitution.
According to Liya Agrba, a lawyer and member of H-ara H-Pitsunda the two activists were called in by the authorities, for a ‘talk’ in the early hours of Thursday, and were then detained.
On Friday, the group reported they had been released.
Both Khashig and Tania reportedly refused to sign their detention notice without the presence of their lawyers, who were initially denied access to the detained activists.
The activists have said they intend to challenge the charges in court.
H-ara H-Pitsunda (‘our Pitsunda’) is a youth movement that emerged to protest the Pitsunda (Bichvinta) Dacha deal, which would see the transfer of a Soviet-era state residence in Pitsunda to Russia.
[Read more on OC Media: Abkhazia’s youth protest the Pitsunda dacha deal]
Members of H-ara H-Pitsunda, along with the parents of those detained, and several public figures and opposition members gathered in front of the police station where Khashig and Tania were being held on Thursday.
Inal Khashig, a journalist and political observer, criticised their arrest as ‘absurd’.
‘If any of you attach a banner “Long live the Republic of Abkhazia” on your fence tomorrow, you may be held administratively liable’, Khashig wrote on Facebook.
‘If they try to ban the citation of the great Abkhazians, then this police force should not be regarded as ours’, Gary Kokaya, a former MP, told Nuzhnaya Gazeta. ‘This is the power of the occupiers, who are trying to oppress the country’s citizens.’
Said Gezerdaa, a lawyer and activist, claimed that the two were wrongfully accused of hooliganism.
‘Here, we are talking about freedom of expression. First of all, it is our constitutional right. The law on mass events cannot be applied here — there were no rallies, no marches, no demonstrations’, Gezerdaa told Nuzhnaya Gazeta.
Liya Agrba from H-ara H-Pitsunda said the group did not believe it was necessary to apply for a permit, as the action was not a ‘mass event’.
‘When we organised a peaceful demonstration around the city [previously], we informed the mayor’s office how and when we intend to hold it and agreed on the route. But this time, they did not consider it necessary’.
In the aftermath of the action, police officers removed all banners placed by H-ara H-Pitsunda and sent them for ‘examination’.
The movement has demanded that the authorities return the banners to them.
For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.