Five former senior officials have been convicted of attempting to cover up the 2004 killing of 19-year-old Buta Robakidze by police. The verdict came after over a decade of campaigning by the victim’s family and rights groups, who had claimed the case had been shelved.
On Tuesday, Tbilisi City Court sentenced four of the five — Irakli Pirtskhalava, Guram Donadze, Zura Mikadze, and Davit Iashvili — to 5 years and 3 months in prison for abuse of official power.
The former head of Georgia’s Criminal Police, Zaza Bakradze, received a 4.5-year suspended sentence through a plea bargain.
Bakradze fled Georgia in 2012 but returned in 2018 to face trial. He was the only one of the accused to confess that police had planted a gun near Robakidze after he was fatally shot.
There was uproar in the courtroom from supporters of the accused after judge Davit Mgeliashvili announced the verdict, with one throwing a lighter at the prosecutor, allegedly injuring his head. Police detained one person over the incident.
The victim’s parents, Soso Robakidze and Ia Metreveli, hailed the verdict and thanked the prosecution.
‘For 35 minutes, our child was still alive and they did not do anything to save him […] Today marks the restoration of justice in the country’, Metreveli told journalists in front of the court.
The two had accused the former government of killing their son
Amiran (Buta) Robakidze and four others were stopped by patrol police on the night of 23 November 2004 while driving in Tbilisi’s Didube District.
After getting out of the vehicle, Robakidze was shot dead by police.
Following the incident, Patrol, a TV programme made by the Interior Ministry’s Public Relations Department reported that the incident was an armed assault on police.
The department was headed at the time by one of the convicted, Guram Donadze.
Patrol showed footage of firearms and ammunition supposedly taken from the scene, claiming that some of them were used by Robakidze and his companions the night of his death.
After two years of protests from Robakidze’s family and public outcry questioning the official version of events, the authorities charged Grigol Bashaleishvili, the patrol officer who shot Robakidze, with manslaughter.
Authorities had previously insisted that Bashaleishvili had acted in self-defense.
Bashaleishvili was sentenced to four years in prison in 2006 and an investigation into evidence planting was formally launched. But the official story over what happened that night was not challenged by the authorities.
Authorities reopened the case after Georgian Dream defeated the United National Movement (UNM) in parliamentary elections in 2012.
In a press release on 18 December the Prosecutor’s Office argued that Robakidze was shot by police without warning and while holding his hands in the air, as he and his companions were being searched.
According to them, police officers failed to recover any firearms after shooting Robakidze.
According to the renewed investigation, police officers then planted two automatic firearms and cartridges, a revolver, and a hand grenade at the scene, accusing Robakidze of an armed assault on police and prosecuting his four companions for illegal purchase and carrying of firearms and ammunition.
Robakidze’s killing was one of several high profile cases in which the former ruling UNM party under President Mikheil Saakashvili came under criticism from the opposition.
In January 2015, former Georgia Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili publicly promised Soso Robakidze that justice would be served, and that all those responsible would be ‘held accountable’.
Robakidze’s parents as well as several others claiming to be victims of crimes committed by the law enforcement agencies during the UNM’s rule, have joined several rallies against Saakashvili’s party, now in opposition, warning the public against reelecting them.
Robakidze and Metreveli have also been critical of the ‘Fathers for Truth’ campaign led by Zaza Saralidze and Malkhaz Machalikashvili for cooperating with the UNM.
The two have accused the current Georgian government of covering up two separate controversial killings.