Court rules in favour of Georgian security service over teen’s death in Pankisi

5 February 2019
Malkhaz Machalikashvili (left) at the protest of fathers for Truth.  (Mari Nikuradze/OC Media)

Tbilisi City Court has ruled that the Georgian State Security Service (SSG) did not violate the presumption of innocence of 19-year-old Temirlan Machalikashvili, who was fatally shot in late 2017 during an anti-terror sweep in Georgia’s Pankisi Valley.

Machalikashvili’s family, represented by local rights group the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Centre (EMC), argued that public statements made by the SSG in December 2017 and January 2018 portrayed Machalikashvili as having been confirmed to support terrorism, which is punishable under Article 311 of the Georgian Criminal Code.

Machalikashvili was shot by the SSG on 26 December 2017. Despite remaining in a coma for two weeks before passing away, the authorities never formally charged him. Machalikashvili died on 10 January without having regained consciousness.

In several statements following the operation, the SSG said that Machalikashvili and four people detained during the sweep ‘were connected to’ and ‘helped’ an armed group allegedly connected to the Islamic State. The group in question were all killed or arrested during November 2017’s armed siege in Tbilisi’s Isani District.

On 22 November, after a siege that lasted 21 hours, SSG special forces arrested one and killed three alleged terrorists, including Akhmed Chatayev, a member of IS who was accused by Turkey of plotting the 2016 Istanbul airport attack.

On 1 April 2018, the SSG released footage that they said showed Machalikashvili with two of the now-deceased suspects. Authorities claimed that Machalikashvili and those detained assisted Chatayev’s group in entering and staying in Georgia.

EMC lawyer Davit Berdzuli told OC Media that though the Court’s explanatory statement is still pending, they are considering challenging the decision.

‘The SSG made information public that suggested Temirlan Machalikashvili’s guilt in a fragmented manner, and they released this information before the court had considered the evidence — its relevance and validity — and before there was any official court verdict against him. We believe this violated the principle of presumed innocence’, Berdzuli said.

Following Tuesday’s ruling, the opposition United National Movement (UNM) party demanded that a parliamentary investigative commission be created to look into the case.

The UNM’s Nika Melia urged ‘at least 20’ ruling party MPs, the number needed to approve such a committee, to support the initiative.

Machalikashvili’s family demanded a parliamentary probe into the case in December 2018, on the anniversary of the special operation, which was supported by the largest opposition party in parliament, the European Georgian party.

Members of the ruling Georgian Dream party said that such a probe was not necessary, as the investigation was still ongoing.

Father for Truth

An SSG special forces unit shot Machalikashvili in his bedroom after, the authorities claimed, he attempted to use a hand grenade.

Machalikashvili’s family has claimed that the teen was shot in his sleep, and accused the authorities of using excessive force and then covering up their actions.

They said that special forces planted a hand grenade near Machalikashvili, denying him medical services for three hours after he was shot.

In July, EMC accused the authorities of conducting an ‘information war’ against Machalikashvili, after several Georgian media outlets released ‘leaked evidence’, including deleted WhatsApp conversations and call records retrieved from his phone, which suggested Machalikashvili had connections with terrorist organisations.

In June 2018, Machalikashvili’s father, Malkhaz Machalikashvili, became one of two leaders of the Fathers for Truth street protest movement against the misuse of power by the authorities. He has maintained that the government made a mistake and demanded his son’s name be cleared.

Following Tuesday’s ruling, Malkhaz and a small group of supporters held a silent rally in protest at the decision in front of Tbilisi’s parliament building.

Once again, he urged lawmakers to intervene, and said he planned to lodge a petition with 2,000 signatures to parliament on Wednesday.

Talking to OC Media, Malkhaz said that the court ‘did what they were told to do’.

‘The court, the prosecutor’s office… all are Ivanishvili’s slaves […] This is not a government, and it’s not a state; no justice or judge is real in this country.’

He said that he did not have ‘high expectations’ about the results of any parliamentary commission, but hoped that opposition parties would do everything they can.

‘Is there no one in this parliament who still has some humanity?’, Malkhaz asked, adding that he still hoped some members of the parliamentary majority would support an official commission.

‘For me, the most important thing is to inform the Georgian people that my child was innocent […] He was not even a suspect or ever charged.’

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