Tbilisi City Court sentenced actor Giorgi ‘Bakhala’ Giorganashvili to eight years in prison on 23 January on drug charges. Giorganashvili had claimed that police had planted the drugs on him.
Giorganashvili was arrested on 29 January 2017 for ‘possession of 0.3726 grammes of buprenorphine’, an opioid used to treat opioid addiction, while travelling from western Georgia to Tbilisi.
After hearing the court’s ruling, Beka Tsikarishvili, a drug reform icon, threw a brick at the courthouse in protest, breaking a window, Liberali reports. Tsikarishvili was arrested shortly after.
The Interior Ministry has opened an investigation against him for criminal damage, hooliganism, and resisting police.
If convicted, Tsikarishvili could face up to three years in prison.
[Read more about Beka Tsikarishvili’s case on OC Media: Drug reform icon Beka Tsikarishvili avoids jail for cannabis possession]
Following Giorganashvili’s arrest last year, dozens of protesters rallied to support him, after which Tbilisi City Court released him on ₾20,000 ($8,400) bail. Giorganashvili claimed at the time he was being kept illegally in custody, as ‘police had planted drugs’ on him.
The Prosecutor’s office announced on 23 January that they have launched an investigation into the allegations of police abuse of power.
A rally to support Giorganashvili was held on 13 July in Tbilisi’s Dedaena Park, where supporters urged authorities to change legislation and decriminalise drug possession.
Searches without witnesses
Drug policy activists have claimed that a rule allowing courts to place a person in jail after hearing testimony only from police, without requiring a third party to be present during a search, has to be amended.
‘As in many cases in recent months, the only witnesses [of Giorganashvili’s drug-examination] are police officers. After detaining Bakhala, they examined him at a place with no cameras, and despite Giorgi’s demand to have a third party witness during the examination, they were the only ones present’, the organisers of the rally, the White Noise Movement, a group of drug policy activists, said on 13 July.
‘War against the people’
Georgia, a country where every third prisoner is serving time for drugs, may be about to transform its strict drug policy into a far more liberal system. Activists and reformers are hoping that new legislation could change Georgia’s system away from what they call ‘the war against the people’.
[Read more about Georgian Drug Reform on OC-Media: Georgia’s ‘war against the people’ and the war against a ‘system that stinks’]
A bill to decriminalise drug use has already made it to parliament. After its first hearing, the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, stressed the ‘importance of elaborating an anti-drug policy’. A number of leading figures in the government echoed the anti-drug messages in the Patriarch’s annual Christmas epistle.
‘As the country faces a demographic catastrophe, each of us has to be especially cautious and prudent in approaching this problem [drug use] in a complex way so that consequential steps are taken’, the Patriarch said in his epistle at midnight on 6 January, before Orthodox Christmas Mass.
The bill is currently on hold, as officials say there are multiple subjects they have to agree on. On 22 January, Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani said there is no agreement on issues such as different charges for different quantities of drugs and for repeat offences.
She said that in four weeks time, ministries will present concrete details on how they think these issues should be addressed.