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A Georgian citizen has died in detention in Abkhazia’s eastern Gali District after being arrested for ‘illegally crossing the border’. According to Abkhazian officials, 29-year-old Irakli Kvaratskhelia hanged himself at a Russian border service unit where he was taken to file documents.
Georgian officials have said Kvaratskhelia may have been beaten in the detention facility. Georgia’s Samkharauli National Forensics Bureau, which is examining his body, has so far found no evidence of such violence.
On Wednesday, the Georgian State Security Service announced they had been informed through the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) hotline that a Georgian citizen had committed suicide while in detention.
Speaking with journalists, an alleged witness said that there was a verbal argument between Kvaratskhelia and Russian soldiers prior to his detention.
A representative of Abkhazia’s government in exile, Rezo Kobalia, told Georgian news agency IPN that a doctor was rushed to see Kvaratskhelia on Monday at the Nabakevi military base ‘as his condition was severe’.
According to Abkhazian officials, Kvaratskhelia hanged himself after being left alone in a room and that ‘medical personnel were unsuccessful in saving his life’.
In a statement, the Abkhazian security services said that ‘the medical examination conducted by the Forensic Medical Examination Bureau of the Abkhazian Health Ministry confirmed the non-violent nature of the cause of his death’, adding that the investigation into his death was being carried out by the Russian authorities.
Kvaratskhelia’s body was transferred to Tbilisi late on Thursday. Irakli Toidze, an expert from the Georgian National Forensic Bureau, told journalists that there were only injuries visible on Kvaratskhelia’s neck.
‘There’s a trace of rope on his neck. Basically, there are no more injuries. More information will be available after additional examinations. The laboratory examinations will determine whether the injuries on his neck were inflicted during his life or after death’, Toidze said.
Ketevan Tsikhelashvili, Georgia’s State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality, told media on Wednesday that despite having no information about the true causes of Kvaratskhelia’s death, ‘the unfortunate fact is that Irakli Kvaratskhelia died while in unlawful detention’.
‘We don’t have reliable information from witnesses to claim that there was some other kind of violence involved. What we know for now is that Irakli Kvaratskhelia was detained illegally and this is very unfortunate’, Tsikhelashvili said.
The same day, Sergi Kapanadze, an MP from the opposition European Georgia party, told media that ‘the toughest measures should be taken if there are revelations that Kvaratskhelia was either killed or tortured’.
‘It is essential to find the persons responsible and include them in the Otkhozoria–Tatunashvili [sanctions] list. Our main object should be their punishment. It is important to inform our international partners’, Kapanadze said.
The Gali (Gal) District authorities did not respond to a request for comment.
Two more arrests for ‘illegal border crossing’
Two more people were arrested for ‘illegal border crossing’ by the authorities in South Ossetia on 13 March.
The Georgian State Security Service told OC Media that they had informed the EUMM about the arrests.
The same day, the Security Committee of South Ossetia warned Georgian anti-occupation activist group Power of Unity to abstain from ‘provocations’ near the borderline.
The group had announced that they would protest at the border near the village of Khurvaleti, after which South Ossetian officials noted that ‘if participants of the demonstration violate the state border of the republic, they will be detained in accordance with South Ossetian law’.
According to the two latest reports by the State Security Service of Georgia, 260 Georgians were arrested by South Ossetian authorities and 245 by Abkhazian authorities for ‘illegally crossing the border’ between 2016 and 2017.
According to data acquired by the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) from the Interior Ministry, in 2009–2015, ‘a total of 2,117 Georgian citizens [were] illegally detained by the occupation forces, […] From the total amount, 1,416 [were] detained near Abkhazia, and 701 at [the] Tskhinvali occupation line’.
In June 2018, Georgia released the first 33 names on the ‘Otkhozoria–Tatunashvili list’ of sanctioned individuals. The list includes all those accused or convicted in absentia for ‘the murder, kidnapping, torture, and inhumane treatment’ of Georgian citizens in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and for the cover-up of these crimes, since 1991.
The list involved 24 cases related to Abkhazia and 9 to South Ossetia. It includes the head of the South Ossetian security services (KGB) in Akhalgori (Leningor), Alik Taboyev, and Akhalogori Deputy Prosecutor David Gurtsiyev, who are both accused of being involved in the kidnapping, torturing, and killing of Archil Tatunashvili.
The Russian and South Ossetian authorities have harshly criticised Georgia for passing the sanctions list into law. On 2 July 2018, authorities in South Ossetia labelled the list ‘cynical’ and ‘irresponsible’, dubbing it ‘another indicator’ of Tbilisi’s ‘lack of desire to face its own mistakes and normalise relations’ with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Tatunashvili, a former Georgian soldier, died in February 2018 in Tskhinvali (Tskhinval), allegedly after being tortured by prison guards. The South Ossetian security services claimed he died after falling down the stairs while trying to escape. Tatunashvili’s body was handed over to Georgian authorities 26 days after his death.
According to a preliminary forensic medical examination report produced by the Samkharauli National Forensics Bureau, Tatunashvili sustained over 100 injuries including, fractures, bruises, haemorrhages, and incisions while he was still alive.
Giga Otkhozoria was shot dead by an Abkhazian border guard in May 2016, reportedly after an argument between the two.
[Read more about the list on OC Media: Georgia releases Otkhozoria-Tatunashvili sanctions list]
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.