Georgian Dream Tbilisi city councillor accused of sexually assaulting employee

8 October 2019
An election poster of Ilia Jishkariani being trampled by protesters. Photo: Tamuna Chkareuli/OC Media

Member of the ruling Georgian Dream party fraction in the Tbilisi City Council (Sakrebulo) has been accused by a former member of his staff of sexual assault.

On 8 October, Georgian Prosecutor's Office announced they had indicted Jishkariani over sexual violence by abusing his office and for violence, and recognised Tatia Todadze as a victim.

This decision came after the women’s rights group Georgian Women’s Movement held a protest in front of the Chief Prosecutor’s Office on 7 October demanding that Ilia Jishkariani be indicted.

Dozens of supporters, mostly women, chanted ‘punish!’ for several minutes in front of the entrance of the Prosecutor’s Office.

Speaking to Georgian TV channel Mtavari on 4 October, Tamta Todadze accused Jishkariani, a 54-year-old majoritarian member of the council, of physically attacking her in his office on 30 September, immediately after she tried to escape from his unwanted advances on her.

According to Todadze, Jishkariani came to his office drunk during working hours while she was working there alone and offered her an alcoholic drink. Todadze said he later started touching her improperly. 

After threatening to expose him, Todadze said his superior attacked her. 

Speaking to journalists in front of the Prosecutor’s Office, Todadze said that a week after the assault, she had still not been given ‘victim’ status by law enforcement agencies, and that her lawyer had no access to case materials as a result. 

The protest outside the Prosecutor's Office in support of Todadze. Photo: Tamuna Chkareuli/OC Media.

‘All I could do to help the investigation — examination or any other kind of evidence — I have cooperated with the authorities on. However, it is very strange that the Prosecutor’s Office remains silent, I’m still not being recognised as a victim. This investigation looks artificially protracted’, she said.

‘Investigation going nowhere’

Baia Pataraia, a lawyer from women’s rights group Sapari, which is providing legal assistance to Totadze, told OC Media that the authorities should have launched a probe into the more serious crime of ‘attempted rape’ not ‘sexual violence’. 

The Interior Ministry are investigating the alleged assault as ‘a violent act of a sexual nature’ and ‘damage and destruction of property’. 

‘We are saying that it was an attempted rape… There is a strong case for this, which makes the absence of victim status or indictment [of Jishkariani] ungrounded. This already gives us reason to suspect Ilia Jishkariani has very influential backers in the Prosecutor’s Office… All suspicions fall on the Cheif Prosecutor [Shalva Tadumadze] who could be influenced by someone from Georgian Dream’, Pataraia said. 

‘We will not put up with an investigation that goes nowhere. And we already have signs of this’.

The day after the rally, the Prosecutor’s Office said that the status of Todadze will be determined after they analyse case materials and have the result of the examination.

Todadze's lawyer, Teona Lukava, submitted a motion on 7 October to recognise her client as a victim, something the authorities must decide on within 48 hours. 

Todadze’s account

Speaking to Mtavari Arkhi on 4 October, Todadze gave her account of the events.

‘He hugged me, started kissing my neck and put his hand between my legs […] I was in a shock, saw a mobile phone and told him “I'm filming everything and will make everything public”.’ 

She said that after threatening him with the footage, Jishkariani threw her on the floor, punched and kicked her, and eventually snatched the phone, ‘smashing’ it on the floor several times to make sure there was no footage of him attacking her.

According to the alleged victim, she eventually managed to escape and go home and that the ambulance who treated her bleeding hand immediately called police at 16:44. 

She also claimed that CCTV cameras should have recordings showing her escaping from the office with an injured hand.

Todadze claimed that the police documented scratches and bruises on her body but did not visit the scene of the alleged attack until 03:00 the next morning. 

Speaking to TV channel Pirveli on 5 October, Todadze said that office equipment was damaged during the attack and that there should be enough case materials to question Jishkariani, something investigators have not done so far. 

Tamta Todadze speaking to journalists at Monday's protest. Photo: Tamuna Chkareuli/OC Media

On 6 October, the Interior Ministry said that they had conducted all necessary procedures within the investigation, including questioning ‘all individuals within the case as witnesses’.

Jishkariani, who was hospitalised due to ‘illness’ within hours after police visited the scene, has not yet publicly commented on accusations. 

Lack of support

Responses to the scandal have been mixed, with some Georgian Dream supporters questioning Todadze’s account on Facebook. 

Several Georgian Dream leaders commented on the scandal, including parliamentary speaker Archil Talakvadze who vowed they would follow the case closely and that if the attack was confirmed, their ‘reaction would be exemplary’. 

Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze, the party’s General Secretary, told the media on 6 October that ‘anyone could level such accusations’ and that everyone should wait for the results of the investigation. 

Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani, the first women to hold the role, said on 5 October that she ‘wished the claim will not be confirmed’, but that Todadze’s account ‘included way too specific details, facts, and dates’. 

Minutes before the 7 October rally in front of the Prosecutor’s Office, Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, the first woman to be elected to the role, tweeted that the protest was Georgia’s #MeToo, adding that the ‘presumed’ case should not be tolerated. 

On 6 October, Georgian Public Defender Nino Lomjaria called on the Prosecutor’s Office to ‘conduct an effective investigation’. She also condemned the ‘section of the public’ that had blamed the alleged victim instead of supporting and encouraging her and other possible victims of violence to speak publicly. 

‘Not just my fight’ 

On 7 October, during a press conference held before the protest at the Prosecutor’s Office, Todadze said she was ‘ready to fight till the end’ and that it was ‘not just her fight’.

‘I am sure many women in Georgia have the same experience at work. I want this fight to be a broader fight. I want to call on people to stand by me, because from what I see right now, I am alone in this situation’, she said.

Since speaking out publicly, Todadze has been actively supported by her mother Khatuna Okropiridze, who was also present during the 7 October rally.

Okropiridze claimed on 6 October that a friend of Jishkariani had reached out to her and offered to ‘settle’ the case out of court.

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