An ethnic Georgian man has died in Abkhazia after allegedly being beaten by police.
Vitali (Temur) Karbaia, 44, died in the Republican Hospital in Sukhumi (Sukhum) late last week.
His death came after a confrontation with police in Gali (Gal) District, the easternmost region of Abkhazia which is predominantly populated by ethnic Georgians.
Soon after his death, reports began to emerge online that he had been beaten to death by police, reports echoed by several of his relatives in Georgian-controlled territory.
However, the authorities in Abkhazia have denied this, stating he injured himself after being arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct.
Speaking with RFE/RL on Sunday, his sister-in-law said Karbaia had sustained multiple injuries, including bruises and fractures, on his body.
‘There are injuries everywhere. He is destroyed, his ribs, sides, and bones are broken’, she said. ‘We don’t know anything else yet. I don’t know whether the body was examined or not’.
On Tuesday, Abkhazia’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Anas Kishmaria, called for a swift investigation into the reported abuses surrounding Karbaia’s death.
The Commissioner also highlighted the ‘inadmissibility of using disproportionate physical pressure and acts of violence against detainees’, and called on law enforcement to ‘respect the human rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Abkhazia’.
DRI, a Georgian rights group, reported that according to information they had received, Karbaia was stopped by police on 6 December whilst in the company of his wife and child, and asked to take a drug test.
DRI cited Karbaia as saying that he did not want to take the test in a ‘humiliating manner’ in front of his family and that he would visit the police station after taking his wife and child home.
‘Due to the response, the militiamen severely beat him, as a result of which he received injuries incompatible with life’, their statement read.
According to the group, Karbaia was then taken to a clinic in Gali where he was treated for broken ribs and a concussion before being transferred to Sukhumi, where he succumbed to his injuries.
On Monday, Abkhazia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs told the Abkhazian news service, Aiashara, that the confrontation between Karbaia and police took place after complaints were received that he was in a ‘drunken state pestering citizens, and using obscene language’ in Gali’s marketplace on 6 December.
The ministry reportedly said that police took Karbaia to a police station in Gali, where he ‘continued to use obscene language against police officers and did not respond to orders’.
They said that Karbaia was placed in a detention centre where he ‘tried to injure himself’, and was subsequently sent to a clinic for treatment.
The ministry claimed that Karbaia was released the following day.
Aiashara reported that Karbaia was then admitted to the Sukhumi Republican Hospital on 9 December after ‘feeling unwell’.
They added that the ‘relevant services’ were looking into his death.
DRI reported that three officers involved in the incident had been arrested, while Georgian TV station Formula reported that ‘around ten’ Interior Ministry employees had been detained.
Karbaia’s death was met with anger by Georgian officials.
Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili condemned his death as a ‘tragic reminder of the blatant violations of elementary human rights in the territories occupied by Russia’.
Shalva Papuashvili, Georgia’s parliamentary speaker, stated that Karbaia’s death ‘once again emphasises the gravity of the occupation […] and shows how important it is to end the occupation as soon as possible’.
The Human Rights Defender’s Office in Georgia also issued a statement holding Russia accountable for the ‘alleged violation of the right to life of a Georgian citizen’.
Georgia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs told RFE/RL that they were launching a murder investigation into Karbaia’s death.
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.