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Journalists and opposition supporters attacked in Marneuli brawls

30 September 2020
Journalist Jeikhun Muhamedali (left) and Georgian Dream staffer Temur Shubitidze (right).

As the ruling Georgian Dream party accuses the ‘criminal opposition’ of provoking violence, law enforcement agencies have assured the public they are looking into three separate incidents of violence in the last two days.

Several people were injured during a series of brawl on Tuesday night in the southern Georgian town of Marneuli.

The scuffles were between supporters of Georgian Dream and Strength is in Unity, an opposition bloc dominated by the United National Movement party (UNM). 

Pro-opposition TV channel Mtavari Arkhi claimed that two of their reporters and two camera operators were attacked by a group affiliated with Georgian Dream. 

The Georgian Public Broadcaster reported that one of their camera operators was also assaulted.

Both channels said the attackers destroyed their equipment.

‘I thought they would kill me,’ Jeikhun Muhamedali, a reporter from Mtavari Arkhi who was among those hospitalised told the channel that night.

‘There was an iron rod and a tree, they put my head between them and then hit me… All this happened in front of Georgian Dream’s headquarters… The police saw everything as I was being beaten.’

The crowd of men assaulted Muhamedali and other journalists while they were covering an ongoing attack on a car belonging to UNM member Givi Kveladze. 

Attackers smashed Kveladze’s car before assaulting him and the journalists soon after. Image via Mtavari.tv.

The violence in Marneuli is the latest outburst of violence in the run up to parliamentary elections in Georgia slated for 31 October. The incident occurred two days after Georgian Dream and UNM’s youth wings tussled in Bolnisi Municipality, another southern Georgian region.

[Read more on OC Media: ‘Shots fired’ and stones pelted as Georgian election campaign takes a violent turn]

Calls for a prompt investigation 

A number of UNM activists, as well as Giorgi Mumladze from election watchdog group 2020 Civil Platform, identified Amiran Giorgadze, the Chair of the Marneuli Municipal Council (sakrebulo), as being among attackers on 29 September.

Mumladze himself also ended up with injuries in the local hospital. He claimed that Giorgadze hit him in the face.

The Georgian Public Defender, several local rights groups, and a number of opposition parties — including European Georgia, Girchi, and Strategy Aghmashenebeli — condemned the incident. 

Soon after the violence in Marneuli, the Media Advocacy Coalition, a group of 10 Georgian rights organisations, called on the government to ‘investigate the incident in a timely and effective manner’ which would ‘reduce risks the media face during the election period’. 

Neither of two statements released by Georgian Dream  — one of which was read out by the party’s Executive Secretary Irakli Kobakhidze on Thursday — addressed the attacks on journalists.

The Interior Ministry announced they were investigating the attacks as well as the obstruction of journalistic work in Marneuli. 

The ministry also vowed to look into a separate incident between political activists that occurred earlier in Marneuli. 

Before the larger violence on the evening of 29 September, political rivals engaged in a brawl outside the 22nd electoral district in Marneuli, where the UNM was holding a rally. 

Georgian Dream alleged that ‘alcohol-intoxicated’ UNM activists provoked the violence that followed.

Levan Natroshvili, a programme manager at Transparency International — Georgia, told OC Media that the violence could cast a shadow over the election.

‘If parties are deprived of the opportunity to campaign peacefully, it will be substantially reflected in the overall evaluation of the elections’, he said.

Georgian Dream condemns ‘criminal opposition’

On 30 September, the day after the fights in Marneuli, Georgian Dream reported that a member of their staff, Temur Shubitidze, had been attacked and beaten up on his way to Marneuli that morning. 

Irakli Kobakhidze, who is also Georgian Dream’s campaign chief, blamed what he called the ‘criminal opposition’ for the incidents on 29–30 September. He insisted that ‘provocations had gradually become’ their strategy due to ‘recent bad polls’.

Kobakhidze called Nika Melia, a leading member of the UNM, and Ahmed Imamkuliev, a majoritarian candidate for the European Georgia party in the Marneuli and Gardabani District, ‘professional electoral provocateurs’. 

Irakli Kobakhidze, who resigned as parliamentary speaker during mass anti-government protests last year, has been named third in the party list for October’s parliamentary run. Official photo.

Kobakhidze also reprimanded Kakha Okriashvili, a former Georgian Dream ally who is now Strength is in Unity’s majoritarian candidate in the same district, for allegedly resorting to similar tactics.

Transparency International’s Levan Natroshvili criticised these as ‘unfortunate statements indirectly justifying the violence’.

‘An impartial investigation is crucial. However, since investigatory bodies in Georgia are politicised, there is no great hope that the incidents will be investigated quickly and objectively’, he concluded.

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