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Police clash with protesters attempting to block Tbilisi eviction

23 January 2024
Demonstrators gathered outside the Khatiashvili family’s home to protest their eviction. Shota Kincha/OC Media.

Georgian police have arrested 20 people while evicting a family from their home in Tbilisi.

On Tuesday, hundreds demonstrated outside the Khatiashvili family’s home in Tbilisi, as the National Bureau of Enforcement evicted the family for failing to pay their mortgage.

The protesters had attempted to prevent the police from entering the Khatiashvili family’s flat. Several activists were also inside the apartment with the family.

One activist set the flag of the ruling Georgian Dream party on fire from inside the flat. Photo: Shota Kincha/OC Media.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs accused the protesters of damaging a car belonging to the Enforcement Bureau, charging two people with damaging public property.

The ministry stated that 18 others were detained on administrative charges of disobeying the police and disturbing public order.

Among those arrested were Gela Mtivlishvili, the editor of Mtis Ambebi, and several activists.

The entrance to the building and the flat were both either welded shut or blocked, and officers of the Enforcement Bureau were assisted by dozens of patrol police officers and emergency personnel with entering the building.

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The police eventually broke into the building using a sledgehammer.

Publika reported that the Khatiashvilis and their supporters had blocked the entrance to their flat with furniture. Once the police broke in, they ordered the family and the activists to leave.

The police then used force to remove the Khatiashvilis and their supporters from the apartment, as a result of which several people were injured.

Protesters gathered inside the apartment have accused the Enforcement Bureau of using tear gas as they were breaking in, accusations the bureau has denied, in turn accusing the protesters of injuring officers with pepper spray.

‘They also verbally and physically attacked the enforcement officers. Officers of the enforcement police were injured, and state property was also damaged’, read the bureau’s statement.

The police were also accused of assaulting journalists, including Luka Tsikarishvili from the TV channel Spero, who was in the building when the police broke in. Tsikarishvili claimed police used force against him and obstructed his work despite informing them that he was a journalist. 

The police also assaulted journalist Rati Ratiani of online news outlet Mautskebeli. Footage shows the journalist trying to film the protest atop a car as a police officer gets on top of the car and violently pushes him to the ground.

‘Both enforcement police and police representatives constantly prevented our journalists from working, broke their equipment and repeatedly physically assaulted them’, Mautskebeli reported.

Despite the protests, the cold weather, and snowfall, the Enforcement Bureau succeeded in evicting the Khatiashvilis.

President Salome Zurabishvili criticised the eviction, stating during the protest that ‘evicting people in winter is prohibited in all European countries! Human rights and European values are nothing else!’

Mortgages and loan sharks

The Khatiashvilis’ eviction was the first of three planned for this week that have attracted public attention.

On Tuesday, RFE/RL reported that this was the Enforcement Bureau’s fifth attempt at evicting the Khatiashvilis, with Marina Khatiashvili having been indebted to the Bank of Georgia since 2008.

The bank took Khatiashvili to court in 2013 for failing to pay her mortgage.

In June of last year, Khatiashvili told  RFE/RL that the Tbilisi City Court ruled in favour of the Bank of Georgia and ordered her to pay $21,000 or else have her apartment be sold at auction.

Khatiashvili said that in 2014, she was contacted by a lawyer representing the bank, who suggested that she pay off her debt to the bank by borrowing money from loan sharks.

The family eventually lost the apartment in an auction despite having borrowed money from several private lenders. They received their first eviction notice in 2019, which was delayed over the course of five years.

According to members of the family, they have already paid substantially more than the original sum they borrowed to the private debtor, and they intend to continue to fight to regain the flat.