The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the Georgian State Security Services (SSG) violated the right to life of 19-year-old Temirlan Machalikashvili, who was shot dead in a raid on his home in the Pankisi Valley in December 2017.
In their ruling on Thursday, the court found insufficient evidence to conclude beyond reasonable doubt that Machalikashvili was unlawfully killed, finding the state’s explanation that he was reaching for a hand grenade when shot ‘plausible’.
However, the court found that deficiencies in the planning of the operation and the investigation into Machalikashvili’s death, including the mishandling of evidence, meant the state had violated his right to life.
The court dismissed a claim by the family that they were subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment during the investigation.
The court awarded the family €10,000 ($11,000) in damages.
In a dissenting opinion, judge Mykola Gnatovskyy called the ruling ‘problematic’, arguing that ‘none of the arguments presented by the Government amounted to a satisfactory and convincing explanation.’
Gnatovskyy said that as the events in question were ‘the exclusive knowledge of the authorities’, the burden of proof lay with the state, not the applicants. He said that ‘in the absence of an effective investigation’, the state’s version of events ‘carried no more weight than the applicants’ allegation that the grenade was planted in Machalikashvili’s room.’
The Tbilisi-based Social Justice Centre, which was representing the Machalikashvili family in court, vowed to appeal to the ECHR’s Grand Chamber.
They added that the verdict also provided the basis to re-open the investigation in Georgia, which they hoped would ‘give the Machalikashvili family legal opportunities to achieve fair justice’.
Machalikashvili was shot dead in his bed in the town of Duisi by heavily armed and masked security officers during a counterterror sweep in 2017.
The ruling follows a years-long campaign by the family for justice. Temirlan’s father, Malkhaz Machalikashvili, spent a year and a half protesting around the clock outside parliament following the killing, before being evicted by police to make room for New Year decorations in December 2019.
In June 2018, the SSG launched a terrorism investigation into Malkhaz Machlikashvili, in what the SJC and other rights groups said was part of a campaign to discredit the family.
Reacting to the verdict on Thursday, Malkhaz Machalikashvili expressed disappointment that the court did not find his son was unlawfully killed but said he was nevertheless ‘satisfied’.
‘For me, the most important thing is that, according to the European Court, there were too many violations in this case and the case was not effectively investigated’, he said.
Machalikashvili was an ethnic kist, a Chechen sub-ethnos living in the north Georgian Pankisi Valley. Georgian authorities have long been accused by rights groups of unfairly targeting the kists.
In another incident in April 2019, riot police deployed tear gas and rubber bullets against a protest by residents of Pankisi against the construction of a hydropower plant in the valley.
Additional reporting by Tata Shoshiashvili.