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Girchi faces split following child porn scandal

4 December 2020
Girchi leader Zurab Girchi Japaridze (left) and elected MP Iago Khvichia (right).

Georgian libertarian party Girchi has been racked by scandal after one of their elected MPs condemned the arrest of a man for possession of child pornography.

On 29 November, Iago Khvichia, who was placed second on Girchi’s party list in 31 October’s election, took to Facebook to protest the arrest of a 43-year-old man in the west-Georgian town of Zugdidi. The unidentified man has been charged with the ‘illegal purchase, keeping, possession and usage of pornography material containing images of a minor’, which is punishable by 5–10 years in prison.

Police said they had retrieved memory cards, CDs, and cash from the man’s flat as evidence in the case. 

‘So? He downloaded a porno, saved it, once decided to use it and they arrested him? They are out of their minds!’, Khvichia commented last Sunday. The comments triggered a public uproar, including from members of his own party. 

The party has since faced a split that threatens to halve its MPs from four to two before the new parliament even convenes.

After remaining tight-lipped on the comments for several days, on Wednesday, party leader Zurab Girchi Japaridze finally weighed in on the issue. He insisted that it was wrong to punish someone for being ‘curious’ enough to download and watch child pornography.

He added that someone watching such material to seek gratification should at least be isolated from the public.

Several members of the party criticised both Khvichia, for his statement, and Japaridze for not speaking out. 

Nino Darsavelidze, a co-founder of Girchi who left the party before the scandal, appealed to Japaridze as a ‘father of three children’. ‘Your elegant, astral silence does not work this time’, she said on Thursday.

The party begins to crumble

On Friday, Japaridze said he no longer planned to work with Iago Khvichia as well as two other prominent members of the party, Vakho Megrelishvili and Sandro Rakviashvili. Megrelishvili was also among the party’s four members elected to parliament. Japaridze did not specify if the three would be expelled from the party. 

Despite distancing himself from the three in his comments on Friday, Japaridze again declined to condemn Khvichia’s position. ‘I do not plan to do Girchi with them for many reasons but not for the content of the statement Iago made’, he said in a post on Facebook.

He did not clarify what the factors had caused the split and said he had no intention of speaking about this publicly.

Later that day, a party spokesperson told IPN that it was not yet decided ‘how the party would be split’.

Toresa Mossy, a prominent member and one of the founders of Girchi, harshly criticised Khvichia for his comments on Thursday, before announcing he was leaving the party the following day. Later on Friday, he apologised to Khvichia but said he had not changed his position on Khvichia’s comments.

Girchi won its first seats in parliament in the 2020 election, gaining four MPs, Japaridze, Khvichia, Megrelishvili and  Salome Mujiri.

Aleksandre Rakviashvili was fifth in the party list after Mujiri, as the Georgian Electoral Code obliged every group to have at least every fourth person in their proportional lists of the opposite gender to the previous three, a pro-equality measure unpopular in the libertarian party.

Girchi was formed in 2016 by Japaridze and other former members of the United National Movement Party (UNM), and have since been successful in attracting votes with their controversial campaigns. 

These have included ordaining young people as priests in their mock religious group to help them avoid compulsory military service and successfully challenging Georgia’s cannabis laws.

Girchi is among eight opposition groups currently in negotiations with the ruling Georgian Dream party after all of them accused the authorities of rigging the elections. All opposition parties have remained insistent that they will not endorse their parliamentary mandates. 

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