Georgia’s State Security Service (SSG) has released an audio recording which they claim reveals Malkhaz Machalikashvili planned to organise ‘terrorist acts against several individuals’.
Machalikashvili is the father of Temirlan Machalikashvili, a nineteen-year-old ethnic Kist from Georgia’s Pankisi Valley who was fatally shot while in bed in December 2017 during a counterterror sweep in Pankisi.
While the SSG has maintained that the task force was forced to open fire after Machalikashvili reached for a hand grenade, his family insist he was sleeping at the time.
Since May 2018, Malkhaz Machalikashvili has stayed in a tent in front of the Parliament Building in Tbilisi demanding a proper investigation into his son’s death.
At a press conference on Tuesday, the SSG claimed the recorded conversation in Chechen with Georgian subtitles depicted a conversation on 23 March between Machalikashvili and his nephew, identified as Moris (Husein) Machalikashvili.
According to the SSG, Malkhaz Machalikashvili ‘instructed’ Moris Machalikashvili to uncover the addresses and routine movements of Ioseb Gogashvili, the former first deputy head of the SSG.
Subtitles of the recording provided by the SSG suggested Malkhaz Machalikashvili tasked his nephew to go to Zemo Machkhaani, a village in the Kakheti Region of Georgia, to identify and take pictures of a burial ground where Soso Gogashvili’s father was laid to rest.
The security service claimed ‘there was a plan to commit a terrorist act’ against Gogashvili during his expected visit to his father’s grave.
Temirlan Machalikashvili’s family has accused Gogashvili and current SSG head Vakhtang Gomelauri of being responsible for his death, demanding they be punished ‘for a terrorist act’.
During the press conference, the SSG told journalists that their Counterterror Department was questioning Moris Machalikashvili as a witness and that they had opened an investigation for the ‘unlawful purchase of firearms for terrorist purposes’ and ‘preperation of a terrorist attack’ on 1 June 2018.
Authorities said Malkhaz Machalikashvili refused to voluntarily go in for questioning, and that they might ‘act according to the law in situations like this’, suggesting his possible arrest.
'I never deviated from peaceful and legal means of struggle'
Late on 7 May, Malkhaz Machalikashvili wrote on his Facebook page that the recording was ‘something said in the heat of the moment two months ago’ but insisted he ‘never deviated from peaceful and legal means of struggle’.
‘Constant surveillance and airing bitter words said by a father whose son was killed — is this the role of the state?!', Machalikashvili complained.
The following day Machalikashvili appeared at his usual site of protest on Rustaveli Avenue and gave an emotional speech in front of journalists.
'I a am Vainakh, Chechen, Kist man… They killed my son in my own house, my only son… I have my honour and manhood, but despite all this, I still respect Georgia and still do everything within the law to punish these people’, Machalikashvili said.
Machalikashvili said he might have said what was in the SSG’s recording, but that he was not sure.
He alleged that as a father who lost his son, he frequently had ‘thoughts like those’ but ‘always found the strength to suppress them’ as he ‘saw support from society’.
Since May, Machalikashvili has refused to voluntarily visit the SSG for questioning, saying the institution was responsible for his son’s death and it would have been ‘unimaginable’ to be there and ‘pray for son’s soul’ at the same time during Ramadan.
He told journalists on 8 May he would have heeded the SSG’s summoning if he had known it was about an investigation on terrorism.
His spokesperson, Mariam Kublashvili told Interpressnews he would visit the SSG to be questioned on 9 May.
The Human Rights Education and Monitoring Centre (EMC), a local rights group that is representing the Machalikashvili family, said that questions remained over Temirlan Machalikashvili’s death, as well as the security service’s treatment of his family.
‘In spite of their efforts, the government won’t distract our society from uncomfortable questions’, EMC’s programme director Tamta Mikeladze wrote on Facebook on 8 May.
Mikeladze reprimanded the authorities for ‘ignoring’, ‘intimidating’ and depriving the parents of Temirlan Machalikashvili of due justice, ‘leaving them on their own […] to fight, be burnt out, and make mistakes’.
Despite the SSG claiming to have revealed Malkhaz Machalikashvili’s ‘intent to carry out a terrorist act’, the authorities have brought no charges against him thus far.
Mikeladze characterised qualifying Malkhaz Machalikashvili’s conversation with his nephew, ‘even if authentic’, as the preparation of a terrorist attack as the SSG’s ‘move from a legal area into a political dimension’.
In their 7 May press conference, the SSG said that they had begun surveillance of Malkhaz Machalikashvili as a followup to an investigation started in June last year after ‘threatening’ statement by Malkhaz Machalikashvili.
On 31 May 2018, Malkhaz Machalikashili spoke at a rally in front of Tbilisi’s parliament building where thousands had taken to the streets to protest a ‘compromised investigation’ into the Khorava Street murders.
‘I and several hundred other people had sworn to go to the SSG and blow ourselves up. But I changed my mind because of my love towards the Georgian people, so nobody would get hurt’, said Machalikashvili.
The following day, Machalikashvili elaborated on his comment, saying that he had spoken out of emotions and would never do such a thing to ‘Georgian people’.
After the SSG’s press conference, rights group EMC reiterated their earlier claim that Machalikashvili’s remark did not contain a crime or signs he was attempting to commit a crime.
Last year, EMC filed a lawsuit on Machalikashvili’s behalf accusing the SSG of violating Temirlan’s presumption of innocence in December 2017 and January 2018 by portraying the deceased teen as a confirmed member of a terrorist group.
In those statements, the SSG said that Temirlan Machalikashvili and four people detained during the sweep ‘were connected to’ and ‘helped’ an armed group allegedly connected to the Islamic State. The group in question were all killed or arrested during November 2017’s armed siege in Tbilisi’s Isani District.
[Read more on OC Media: Three terror suspects dead after 21 hour siege in Tbilisi]
In July 2018, government-leaning TV channel Imedi made public a deleted WhatApp conversation allegedly between Temirlan and an unknown person, evidence they said they had obtained from the official investigation.
The chat record suggested Temirlan Machalikashvili’s had links with the terrorist group.
Following the media leaks, EMC accused the authorities of waging ‘an information war’ instead of investigating the possible excessive use of force by the SSG that resulted in Temirlan’s death.
In December 2018, citing the ‘protracted’ investigation into Temirlan’s shooting, his family demanded that a parliamentary investigative commission be created to look into the case.
Opposition groups the European Georgia Party and the United National Movement (UNM) supported the initiative. However, the ruling Georgian Dream Party declined the proposal, saying the official investigation was still ongoing.
On 7 May, both opposition parliamentary groups indicated that the government still needed to answer questions over the 2017 Pankisi special operation.
This article was last updated on 8 May 2019.