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Far-right activists attack protesters in Adjara

23 March 2022
Brawl across from the Conservative Movement office in Kobuleti. Screengrab from channel 25.

Police have reportedly arrested up to 10 supporters of ultra-right wing and pro-Russia group Alt Info after they attacked a crowd protesting their newly-opened office in the Georgian town of Kobuleti.

Local activists came to the new branch of the Conservative Movement party, Alt Info’s recently created political wing, on Tuesday evening after holding a march in support of Ukraine, in the port city’s downtown area.  

Rally co-organiser Nika Romanadze, who was among those injured in the attack, told OC Media that his brother — who was with him at the anti-Alt Info protest — was also briefly apprehended by police, but was quickly released later the same day.  

Romanadze said that it was their tenth consecutive day of protest against the extremist group and that they have no plans to stop. 

Twenty-eight-year-old Nini Bejanidze told OC Media on Tuesday evening that their protest was peaceful until ‘several masked men with sticks’ attacked their crowd unexpectedly.

The group of protesters that included local school children and teenagers unfurled the national flag of Ukraine in front of the city hall before taking their protest outside Alt Info’s office.

According to Bejanidze, minors were not spared in the attack. 

‘They beat up children who were standing by us!’ she said. 

Support for Ukraine has been overwhelming in Georgia since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February. Alt Info, which has opened dozens of new offices throughout Georgia in recent months, has come under increasing criticism for their advocacy of ‘direct talks’ between the Georgian government and the Kremlin and their staunch opposition to Georgia’s pursuit of NATO membership.

[Read more on OC Media: Datablog | Georgians want their government to support Ukraine

Lasha Komakhidze, a city councillor from the opposition United National Movement party, who participated in the demonstration against Alt Info, claimed that police officers were present when the attack took place but failed to prevent it. 

Following the arrests of assailants, police later secured the Alt Info office with a protection detail.

On 22 March, the Eastern European Centre for Multiparty Democracy (EECMD), a democracy watchdog that has been operating youth-focused Democracy Schools in Ukraine and Georgia, ‘deplored’ the violence.  Levan Tsutskiridze, Executive Director of EECMD, told OC Media that participants of their Democracy Schools were among those who were attacked. 

‘In the face of the Russian intervention in Ukraine, encouraging already re-energised, anti-democratic, violent groups raises questions as to the genuine commitment of the Georgian government to democratic and European aspirations’, a statement published by EECMD reads.

Alt Info justified the violence, by citing recent incidents of vandalism carried out against their offices. In Kobuleti, the office was spray-painted with the colours of the Ukrainian national flag.

'The only leverage we have is brute force. They are only afraid of brute force’, Giorgi Kardava, General Secretary of Alt Info's Conservative Movement threatened on 22 March. ‘You [opponents of Alt Info] will face a response like this, know this.’

Giorgi Kardava. Screengrab from a programme on the Alt Info TV channel.

Fierce critics of gender equality, liberal drug policy, and Georgia’s ‘relaxed’ immigration policy, as well as vocal advocates for rapprochement with Russia, Alt Info were also among the primary cheerleaders of the homophobic and anti-journalist riot on 5 July, 2021 in Tbilisi. As a result of the violence, over 50 press workers were injured, with journalist Alexandre Lashkarava dying within two of sustaining severe injuries, including head trauma.

[Read more: Journalists recall day of terror in Tbilisi]

Recent violence

This is the latest of several violent incidents involving activists protesting Alt Info’s new regional offices.

Earlier this month, activists in Svaneti reported violent retaliation from unidentified men, shortly after they pelted a Conservative Movement office in the town of Mestia with eggs. Georgian authorities have not yet commented on whether an investigation into the incident has been launched.

Criticism over the apparent inaction of Georgian law enforcement agencies became more vocal after a television crew working for TV channel Mtavari claimed on 18 March to have been attacked outside the office of the Conservative Movement in Zugdidi.

Georgian civil society leaders and several MPs visited Samira Bayramova in Marneuli to express their support. Image: Baia Pataraia/Facebook.

Yet another Alt Info critic, Marneuli-based civil activist Samira Bayramova said Alt Info made threats against after she spray-painted their new office in the town with the colours of the Ukraine national flag on 14 March. 

While Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri vowed on 17 March that they would ‘follow the case to the very end’, no arrests have been announced so far.

The Democracy Research Institute, a Georgia-based public policy think tank, noted on 23 March that with around 60 offices newly opened around the country, Alt Info’s declared financial records did not match up to their expenses. Additionally, donations to the group — the identities of the donors have not been revealed — have suddenly tripled within the last week.  

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