Birja Mafia released on bail amid large protests in Tbilisi

12 June 2017
March in support of Birja Mafia (Mari Nikuradze/OC Media)

Members of the rap duo Birja Mafia, who were allegedly caught by police carrying the psychoactive drug MDMA, were released on bail on 12 June after thousands marched in support of them.

Several thousands supporters took to the streets in Tbilisi on 10 June to rally against the ‘unjust police system’, which, according to protesters, often uses the country’s strict drug laws against innocent people.

Tbilisi’s Court of Appeals released Mishka Mgaloblishvili, 28, and Giorgi Keburia, 21, who go by the stage names Young Mic and Kay G, on ₾50,000 ($20,800) and ₾20,000 ($8,300) bail.

The Rap duo were detained in Tbilisi on 6 June charged with ‘illegally purchasing and holding especially large amounts’ of the recreational psychoactive drug MDMA. Friends and family of the accused claim that the drugs were planted on them, and that they were arrested for a recent music video they released depicting a police officer as a dog.

After being released, Keburia said that drugs were not planted on him, but that the police simply wrote that they had drugs in a report.

‘I am innocent, my detention is a restriction of freedom of speech’, Keburia said after being released on 12 June. Both performers thanked their fans and the public for their support.

Tbilisi City Court originally denied the two bail on 9 June, but this was overturned by the Court of Appeal.

The Prosecutor’s Office had requested that the two be held in pretrial detention, but after Georgia’s Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze, who will reportedly run for Mayor of Tbilisi, and Bidzina Ivanishvili’s son, rapper Bera Ivanishvili released statements on 10 June, the Prosecutor’s Office softened their position.

‘I am with you guys! #FreeBirjaMafia’, Bera wrote on his Facebook page on 10 June. Bera’s father, Bidzina Ivanishvili, is a former Prime Minister of Georgia, who is accused by several opposition and civil rights groups of continuing to rule from behind the scenes.

Kvirikasvhili said that an internal investigation is ongoing into the accusations levelled at police by the pair.

Kaladze said that Georgia’s drug laws need to be softened.

Police claimed on 9 June that Keburia had already pleaded guilty to the accusations against him, however he denied this in court.

Both rappers claim that they were targeted because of their recent music video, which depicts a policeman on his hands and knees at the feet of the rappers, on a dog leash.

According to Erica Copeland, Mgaloblishvili’s wife, the music video was financed by entertainment website Adjaranet. She claims that after the video was released on YouTube Adjaranet told Mgaloblishvili to remove it.

Georgia’s drug policy has come under fire from human rights and civil society groups in the country. According to research conducted for the Council of Europe, drug offences were the number one reason for which prisoners were sentenced in 2015, accounting for roughly every third prisoner (2,700 people) in Georgia’s jails.

In addition to handing down tough jail sentences for possessing even small quantities of illegal drugs. There have also been several unconfirmed claims of police targeting or planting drugs on people connected to opposition political figures.

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