Georgian citizen dies in custody in South Ossetia

23 February 2018
Akhalgori (Leningor)

A Georgian citizen and former soldier has died in a custody in Tskhinvali (Tskhinval), after ‘falling down the stairs’, according to the authorities in South Ossetia. Georgian officials have condemned his ‘illegal detention’, and called for an investigation into his death.

Thirty-five-year-old Archil Tatunashvili died in the early hours of 23 February, according to the South Ossetian Security Committee (KGB).

Tatunashvili served in the Georgian armed forces from 2007–2011. He was serving in Iraq during the August 2008 war, and had also served in Afghanistan, according to Radio Tavisupleba, RFE/RL’s Georgian service.

The South Ossetian KGB claimed that as prison guards took Tatunashvili to his cell, he ‘grabbed the gun’ of one of his captors. He was injured and fell down the stairs as guards attempted to stop him, according to their statement.

They claimed that Tatunashvili, unable to breathe, and was rushed to a hospital, where he died two hours later.

Tatunashvili was detained on 22 February in Akhalgori (Leningor) and brought in for questioning in Tskhinvali. The KGB had accused him of being an informant for the Georgian special services, and ‘participating in Georgian aggression in 2004–2008’.

They also claimed Tatunashvili had ‘footage of military infrastructure in South Ossetia’. According to the KGB, they presented to him ‘documents which proved his involvement in hostilities’.

However, Radio Tavisupleba, RFE/RL’s Georgian service, cited an unnamed source in Akhalgori as saying Tatunashvili had ‘no problems’ with local law enforcement, and used to freely cross the dividing line. Akhalgori remains the only crossing point connecting Tbilisi and Tskhinvali controlled areas.

Tavisupleba’s source also claimed Tatunashvili did not participate in the August 2008 war. According to them, he was detained after a ‘verbal disagreement’ with a South Ossetian officer.

In a 23 February statement, Georgia’s Foreign Ministry blamed Russia for Tatunashvili’s death, and condemned his, and two other Georgian citizens’ ‘illegal detention’. Levan Kutashvili and Ioseb Pavliashvili remain in a custody in Tskhinvali.

The statement requested the co-chairs of the Geneva Discussions to make sure of a ‘timely response’, so that the circumstances of Tatunashvili’s death are ‘immediately determined’.

The Geneva Discussions were set up in the aftermath of the 2008 war in South Ossetia. They are co-chaired by representatives of the EU, UN, and OSCE, and involve negotiators from Georgia, Russia, the United States, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia.

For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.

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