Government critics in Georgia including an opposition leader, a youth camp, and student protesters have been attacked, apparently by supporters of the ruling Georgian Dream party, in a series of violent incidents over the weekend.
On Saturday, students attempting to protest a lecture by Georgian Dream chair Irakli Kobakhidze at the Tbilisi State University (TSU) were attacked by party supporters. Members of Georgian Dream’s youth wing are reported to have taken part in the attack, which left at least one student hospitalised.
In a separate incident earlier on Saturday, Zurab Japaridze, who leads the libertarian opposition party Girchi — More Freedom, was attacked in Gori by a man who said he objected to his views on the Georgian Orthodox Church.
Japaridze was travelling to give a lecture at a youth camp, which was attacked later that day. The attack on the camp was organised by the conservative organiser and former Georgian Dream member Vato Shakarishvili.
Students attacked at TSU
The confrontation at TSU took place as several students attempted to unfurl protest banners over a stairwell in the university as the chair of Georgian Dream, Irakli Kobakhidze, was due to hold a lecture. They were prevented from doing so by his security detail.
Footage from the university shows a group of young men then attacking the students on the stairs.
The incident took place a week after students dropped Russian roubles on Kobakhidze as he was walking down the stairs at TSU. Kobakhidze called the participants of that protest ‘youths with disorientation’. Georgian Dream leaders have frequently maligned the ‘orientation’ of young people opposed to the party, explaining this on various occasions as a reference to both their political and sexual orientation.
According to pro-opposition TV channel Mtavari, the young men who attacked the student protesters on Saturday emerged from the lecture hall where Kobakhidze was due to speak to confront them. The channel said this included members of the Georgian Dream youth wing.
Local media reported that several people fell down the stairs during the violence, with some requiring medical care.
‘Drunk’ police officer detained at hospital
One of those hospitalised in the incident was Luka Shvelidze, who media have reported is a member of the youth wing of the opposition United National Movement. He was taken to the Khechinashvili clinic in Tbilisi.
Shvelidze said that later that day, two men dressed in civilian clothes visited him in the hospital asking him questions. One of the men was armed, who Shvelidze described as drunk and stinking of alcohol.
Shvelidze said that this man, later identified as Davit Kakhniashvili, a member of the criminal police, became angry when Shvelidze questioned him, gesturing towards the gun tucked into his trousers and threatening him. He said the other man ran away when he began filming.
Shvelidze’s family then called the police.
Footage from outside the hospital shows Kakhniashvili, still armed, stumbling around and wrestling with Shvelidze.
Other footage shows police dragging Kakhniashvili away with a ripped and bloodied shirt.
In the footage, Kakhniashvili appears disoriented with a glazed look in his eyes. Officers several times attempt to take the gun still tucked into his trousers, but Kakhniashvili prevents them from doing so repeatedly.
Officers, holding Kakhniashvili’s arms behind his back, then force him into the back of a police car and drive away.
On Monday, the Special Investigation Service stated that Shvelidze had been summoned for questioning on 20 June and that the incident at the hospital was being investigated for ‘disobeying a police officer’. An Interior Ministry spokesperson told OC Media that others present in the room had prevented officers from speaking with Shvelidze.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs also stated that they were investigating the violence that took place in TSU.
An opposition leader and youth camp attacked
Also on Saturday, conservative group Georgia First attacked a hotel in Borjomi which was hosting a youth camp organised by the Tbilisi-based Institute for Individual Liberty.
Georgia First was founded less than a week earlier by conservative campaigner Vato Shakarishvili.
Shakarishvili is a former Georgian Dream member of the Tbilisi City Council and has also previously worked for pro-government media. Shakarishvili also co-founded the conservative movement Ai Ia together with Georgian singer and outspoken government supporter Gia (Utsnobi) Gachechiladze.
Less than three hours before the attack, Zurab Japaridze, who leads the libertarian opposition party Girchi — More Freedom, was attacked in the town of Gori as he travelled to address the youth camp in Borjomi.
A spokesperson for the party said that a man approached their car and commented on how Japaridze spoke about the Georgian Orthodox Church, before hitting him in the face. She said he had suffered an eye injury.
Georgia First commented soon after giving extra details of the incident, but denied responsibility.
Formula, citing an unnamed source, claimed the attack on Japaridze was organised by the State Security Service.
Police in Gori have arrested a suspect accused of attacking Japaridze, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs said they had opened an investigation into the attack in Borjomi for destruction of property.
On Monday, the chair of the ruling Georgian Dream party, Irakli Kobakhidze, blamed radicalism and polarisation for the attack on Japaridze, but insisted that any act of violence should be investigated.
‘In general, the most important thing for our country is to end polarisation; to reduce the degree of radicalism. There are specific forces that directly, and artificially try to polarise the political situation, try to introduce radicalism, and unfortunately, all this sometimes turns into violence. This is very bad, I call on everyone to refrain from any actions that encourage the deepening of polarisation in the country’, Kobakhidze said.
Georgia’s public defender also vowed to investigate both the attacks on Japaridze and the youth camp and on students at TSU.