A number of black students were attacked by a group of local men in Tbilisi over the weekend at a public football pitch. Police have launched an investigation and are considering whether the incident qualified as a hate crime.
One of the students, Benneth Nwiezege, wrote that he and his friends were playing football at around 18:00 on Sunday at a public pitch in Didi Dighomi, in the outskirts of Tbilisi, when ‘a Georgian man' walked up to them and demanded they leave the pitch.
After being asked why, the man replied aggressively, according to Nwiezege, asking them to ‘leave his country’.
‘He continued by saying we have no right to be in his country and we don’t have any rights in his country because we are blacks’.
Nwiezege said the man got aggressive and punched one of the students.
He posted a minute-long video showing a middle-aged man punching a black person, with several other men aggressively running towards the students. Nwiezege claimed that the men were brandishing a ‘machete and stones’. According to him, another man pointed a gun at them from his window, threatening to kill them.
Another video shot from a residential building near the pitch shows a man pushing and kicking one of the students, while another is holding a stick and threatening another student.
‘Let the children play’
Nwiezege wrote that after calling the police, ‘due to the language barrier, the Georgians easily lied and twisted the story’. The men claimed that they had ‘peacefully’ urged the students to leave the pitch so that children could play, according to Nwiezege.
Giorgi Jikurishvili, one of the local residents who is seen in the footage, told Rustavi 2 he was the first to enter the pitch and ask the students to leave.
‘I asked them when they were finishing, because kids wanted to play, and they ignored me entirely. One of them even pushed me. One of them was very active… Of course they had the right to play, but the kids had been waiting for hours’, Jikurishvili said.
According to him, this led to a brawl: ‘he kicked me down. And when any person sees his neighbour or friend kicked down, they’re gonna stand beside him’.
When asked why they did not call the police, Jikurashvili said: ‘why should I have called the police in my courtyard?’.
Another local man claimed the students ‘physically assaulted’ a child, causing anger among neighbours. He added that ‘some of [the students] got it in their snouts, but not enough’.
According to Nwiezege, a translator provided to them by the police ‘didn’t understand English enough to translate well’.
‘We even showed the police the full video from the beginning and to our greatest surprise, the police told us to forget about it, to try to forgive these men. None of the Georgian assaulters was arrested. No form of an apology was demanded from them’, he wrote.
[Read on OC Media: ‘You shouldn’t be here because you’re black’ — Georgia’s racism problem]
The Interior Ministry said in a 10 April statement that 20 people ‘from both sides of the conflict’ had been questioned.
The New Vision University, where the students reportedly study, condemned the incident, calling on the authorities ‘not to close their eyes to any violence’ and to ensure an ‘effective and timely’ investigation into the incident.
On Tuesday, while vowing that the investigation would ‘establish what happened’, Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze proposed a friendly football match between the students and their attackers, asking Levan Kobiashvili, the President of the Georgian Football Federation, to organise the event.
This article was last updated at 20:05 on 10 April 2018.