Family demand parliamentary commission one year after teen killed in Georgia’s Pankisi

26 December 2018
The family of Temirlan Machalikashvili and their supporters gathered on 26 December demanding a parliamentary investigatory commission be set up. (Dato Parulava/OC Media)

The Family of Temirlan Machalikashvili, who was shot dead by Georgian security forces last December, have held a silent rally in front of Tbilisi’s parliament building demanding parliament look into the teenager’s death.

The family and their supporters gathered on 26 December demanding a parliamentary investigatory commission be set up.

Nineteen-year-old Machalikashvili, an ethnic Kist from Georgia’s Pankisi Valley, was shot in the head while in bed on 26 December 2017 as Georgian security forces conducted a counterterror sweep. He died of his injuries 15 days later.

While Georgia’s State Security Service (SSG) have maintained that the task force was forced to open fire after Machalikashvili reached for a hand grenade, his family have said he was sleeping at the time.

In a press conference earlier on Wednesday organised by local rights group the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Centre (EMC), Temirlan’s father, Malkhaz Machalikashvili, said he did not believe the Georgian Dream government would conduct a thorough investigation. He said he had given the authorities time to ‘admit’ they had mistakenly killed his son.

‘When the state makes such a mistake, it is out of question that they will investigate and speak the truth’, Machalikashvili said.

Malkhaz Machalikashvili (Dato Parulava/OC Media)

‘One year ago, at exactly this time, I was standing over Temirlan and the first question I asked the almighty Allah was, “why did this happen?” ’

The Machalikashvili family have claimed that special forces planted a hand grenade near Temirlan, which they said denied him medical services for three hours after he was shot.

EMC programme director Tamta Mikeladze called the investigation into Temrilan’s death a ‘formality’ and ‘ineffective’, arguing that a parliamentary oversight was needed.

EMC have repeatedly criticised the investigation into what they say was an ‘unlawful anti-terror sweep’ and the ‘disproportionate use of force’, saying that evidence from the scene was retrieved by the SSG and may now have been either destroyed or fabricated.

Speaking at the press conference, Mikeladze appealed to ‘all political groups’ in parliament.

‘We demand consultations with them in due time, so that they meet the family, lawyers, and also local community leaders [in Pankisi]. We will share our criticisms and will demand an investigatory commission is set up.’

Mikeladze also told journalists that they were considering taking the case to European Court of Human Rights.

Opposition parties European Georgia and the former ruling United National Movement have both supported setting up a commission.

Davit Matikashvili, an MP from the ruling Georgian Dream party, told journalists following Wednesday's that while the investigation must proceed as ‘it’s very important to have answers to all questions’, creating a parliamentary commission was ‘a different question’.

Mariam Kublashvili, a lawyer for the Machalikashvili family, announced on 26 December that the Samkharauli National Forensics Bureau, which conducted the official probe into the circumstances of Temirlan’s death, could not confirm the his exact position when he was shot.

She also told journalists that an independent forensic analysis had differed from the one prepared by the Samkharauli Bureau.

Isani siege

The December 2017 sweep in Pankisi was one of several operations pursuing individuals suspected of having ties with Akhmed Chatayev and his organisation.

The authorities have said Chatayev blew himself up on 22 November after a 20-hour standoff with police in a flat in Tbilisi’s Isani District. The siege left two of his accomplices dead as well as one police officer. Four more officers were wounded.

The special operation in Tbilisi’s Isani District left four people dead (Luka Pertaia/OC Media)

Chatayev was a member of the Islamic State suspected of organising the deadly 2016 Istanbul Airport attack. Georgian authorities had detained him after he was wounded during the 2012 ‘Lopota Incident’, in which Georgian special forces battled over a dozen North Caucasian militants, but they released him after several months ‘due to lack of evidence’.

[Read more about Chatayev on OC Media: The last battle of ‘one-handed Akhmed’]

A classified investigation

Following Wednesday’s rally, Georgian Public Defender Nino Lomjaria urged the authorities to give the Machalikashvili family access to case materials from the investigation.

The Prosecutor’s Office has classified the investigation into Temirlan’s killing, preventing lawyers for the Machalikashivli family from accessing case materials.

Both the family and EMC have accused the Prosecutor’s Office of conducting an ‘information war’ against Temirlan by leaking records of a WhatsApp conversation suggesting he had links with terrorists.

The parents have sued the Prosecutor’s Office for violating the presumption of innocence of their son by claiming in December that Temirlan was a part of terrorist group.  

On a rally on 12 November commemorating Temirlan's birthday, Malkhaz Machalikashvili accused the former deputy head of the SSG Soso Gogashvili and the current SSG head Vakhtang Gomelauri of being responsible for his son’s death.

‘The most important thing for me is that the state must admit they made a mistake, and that Gomelaruli and Gogashvili and all special unit members who committed this terrorist act are punished’, Malkhaz told journalists at the 26 December demonstration.

In June, Malkhaz joined Zaza Saralidze, the father of a 16-year-old boy murdered in a brawl outside a school in Tbilisi in December, in leading the Fathers for Truth protest campaign over two separate ‘compromised’ investigations.

Since then, the two fathers have camped in tents in front of the Georgian parliament almost continuously in protest.

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