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Drug campaigners blame authorities for GemFest death

9 August 2017
GEM Fest 7 August 2008 (Facebook)

A number of minor opposition parties and drug reform advocacy groups have directly accused Georgia’s authorities of blame for the reported poisoning of at least 10 people, with one dead at the GemFest music festival. They argue that the government’s strict drug laws meant that drug users do not know what substances they are taking, and are unable to verify them.

Twenty-two-year-old Natia Tavartkiladze died in hospital on 3 August, after falling ill at the GemFest music festival in the Black Sea resort town of Anaklia.

The non-parliamentary Republican Party accused the government of using drug policy for their own interests, without seriously considering liberalising it, claiming they are misleading the public. They believe that the government will never give up the current drug policy, as they use it for ‘blackmail and manipulation’.

The Republicans say that the poisonings were ‘deliberately provoked’ by law enforcement agencies to create an atmosphere of fear ahead of discussions in parliament on drug law reforms, which are due to start in Autumn.

They accuse the authorities of conducting a campaign in social networks and the media to paint drug users as ‘particularly dangerous criminals, who deserves everything they get’.

The White Noise Movement, a drug reform advocacy group, also blamed the government, claiming that they were preventing people from checking the substances they were using.

‘We directly accuse the police and security services, clans, who conduct repressive policy and control all aspects of drug policy in the country — including supplying and dealing of drugs’, their statement reads.


Zurab Japaridze, head of Girchi, another non-parliamentary opposition party, believes that liberalisation of drug policy will make people safer, because it would allow people to know what they are consuming.

‘The experiences of other countries show that after liberalisation there is better control. People have more information on what they are using and how each drug works’, he says.

Police arrested an Iranian citizen at GemFest on 7 August for selling drugs; he may face 8–20 years in jail if convicted. A Georgian was also arrested for buying and storing drugs on 3 August at the festival, and may face 11 years in jail.

Tbilisi saw large demonstrations calling for drug liberalisations in June after rap duo the Birja Mafia were arrested for alleged possession of large amounts of illegal drugs. The pair claim that they were framed by police because of a music video they produced depicting a police officer as a dog.

The two were released on bail following the demonstrations, and the trial is yet to get underway.

[Read more on OC Media: Birja Mafia rap duo face life imprisonment on drug charges ]

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