Georgia’s ruling Georgian Dream Party is facing questions after revelations that the alleged killer of an Australian woman in Tbilisi was a party activist.
Rafael Mursakulovi has been identified as the man arrested over the 30 July murder of 31-year-old Australian citizen Shanae Brooke.
Mursakulovi, 33, is expected to be charged with premeditated murder, with the Interior Ministry stating that DNA evidence ‘unequivocally confirmed’ his identity after his arrest on 8 September.
Mursakulovi faces a maximum of 15 years in prison if convicted.
According to preliminary reports, traces of DNA from Mursakulovi, who lived near the crime scene in Tbilisi’s Mtatsminda District, were left at the scene after he was injured with his own knife while attacking Brooke.
Brooke disappeared in the afternoon of 30 July on the trails of Mount Mtatsminda, above Tbilisi. Her body was found the following day. The Interior Ministry has said her body showed signs of violence but have not confirmed reports that she was sexually assaulted.
Mursakulovi’s lawyer, Sopio Goglichidze, said her client was innocent but was exercising his right to remain silent.
After Mursakulovi’s identity was revealed by local media, it emerged that his social media accounts indicated he worked for Georgian Dream.
Georgian Dream have confirmed that Mursakulovi became a member of the electoral commission for the Mtatsminda District Precinct after he allegedly murdered Brooke, he resigned on 23 August, 16 days before his arrest.
Municipal elections in Georgia are slated to take place on 2 October.
Following the news, both Zaal Udumashvili, a leading member of the opposition United National Movement (UNM), and Tbilisi Mayoral candidate Anna Dolidze, Chairwoman of For People party, accused Georgian Dream of instilling a ‘syndrome of impunity’ in the country.
‘We’ve seen many cases, including Abasovi and the 5–6 July facts, when open and mass violence was encouraged by the authorities with an expectation that [the perpetrators] won’t be punished later’, Dolidze told TV Priveli on Thursday.
Udumashvili accused the ruling party of involving criminals in election campaigns during their rule.
Mursakulovi was arrested on Wednesday hours before a vigil in Brooke’s memory was due to be held in Tbilisi. The vigil was initially organised as a protest, before being changed at the request of Brooke’s family.
Hours after Mursakulovi’s arrest, Irakli Zarkua, a leading Georgian Dream MP, accused the ‘TV channels of the UNM’ of plotting to use the murder to attack Georgian Dream during the election campaign.
Zarkua, who was spotted together with Rafael Mursakulovi in a June 2019 group photo ‘celebrating success’, claimed that Georgian Dream had hundreds of thousands of supporters and that they could not be responsible for every one of them.
Zarkua also warned against ‘political speculation’.
On Thursday, Tbilisi-based civil activist Ani Gagua claimed that after the arrest a day earlier, one of her friends identified Rafael Mursakulovi as one of two people who attacked them in Mtatsminda ‘several months earlier’ but that the police ‘shelved the case’.
Gagua said her friend did not wish to speak with the media but had every intention of appealing to the police again so that the other unidentified man could be arrested.
On 2 August, Georgian Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri admitted that the police had received two reports from women claiming to have been followed in Mtatsminda District ‘earlier’ — he did not specify the exact time frame. He said the police were looking into the cases.