One of the protesters on hunger strike over mining damage to the village of Shukruti says a man attempted to blackmail her with intimate footage of her daughter-in-law, OC Media can reveal.
Vera Kupatadze, who has sewn her mouth shut in an extreme form of hunger strike along with seven others, said she received the threats in two calls from an unknown number on 24 May.
Residents of Shukruti, near the mining town of Chiatura, have been protesting for over two years because the houses in the village have been collapsing. Residents are demanding compensation from mining company Georgian Manganese, who operate the manganese mines directly under the village.
In a recording of the call heard by OC Media, a man is heard threatening to publish private footage of Kupatadze’s daughter-in-law if the protesters did not stop their strike.
‘As I told you, this dirty behaviour involves your daughter-in-law and one of the individuals who has sewn their mouth shut, if you are interested I can prove it to you’, the man is heard saying.
Kupatadze, who appears visibly shaken during the calls, responds defiantly.
‘Everyone knows in what kind of family my child was raised, in what poverty and in what poverty we are still’, she is seen saying.
‘I live in the house I built with my own hands. My mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, mother-in-law, father-in-law, no one has left me anything. My husband and I built this house for 35 years with our hands and they [Georgian Manganese] are destroying it’,
‘The village will stand and protect my family. Whatever you show to the village, they all know our family. Nothing can distort our name. I defend my house, my doors, my garden. I am not a woman to be bought for peanuts.’
‘They wanted to throw mud on my family’, Kupatadze told OC Media. ‘They were lying to me as if they had some dirt.’
Kupatadze said she immediately called the police, and then went to the local police station with the recording and the phone number of the caller. She said that the police had not open an investigation into the incident.
‘Is it that difficult to identify the person with the phone number?’ she asked.
Threats and bribes
Several other protesters have also reported being threatened.
Giorgi Neparidze, one of the leaders of the protest who has been on a hunger strike for 22 days, told OC Media that he had been receiving threats continuously since they restarted protests three months ago.
‘Nikoloz Chikovani [the special manager of Georgian Manganese] told me that if we didn’t stop the protest, drugs and weapons would appear in my home’, Neparidze said, adding that two other senior managers of the company, including Temur Khonelia, had made similar threats.
On 16 February, residents of Shukruti blocked the entrance to the tunnels under the village, after which Neparidze was arrested.
Neparidze named two police officers who he said threatened him during his interrogation. He said they had also threatened to plant drugs and weapons on him.
‘[The officers said that] If I didn’t let the mining resume, I would have to spend a big chunk of my life in prison’.
On 24 March, hundreds of police officers forcefully removed the protests from the mine entrance to allow the mining to continue.
The Public Defender’s Office told OC Media that they were investigating one of the incidents, but declined to specify if this involved the attempted blackmail, the threats by police, or other threats against the protesters. A spokesperson said they had appealed to the Prosecutor’s Office.
Neither the Interior Ministry nor Georgian Manganese returned a request for comment.
[Read on OC Media: In pictures | Lips sewn shut in Chiatura’s sinking village]
UPDATE 02/06/21: The Interior Ministry has told OC Media that they opened an investigation into the alleged attempt to blackmail Vera Kupatatadze as soon as it was reported to them on 24 May. A spokesperson said they were investigating the case under 151 of the Criminal Code which deals with threats and carries a maximum term of one year in prison.
Kupatatadze told OC Media that when she reported the incident she was told by the police that the case ‘would not go anywhere’. She said that no one from the ministry had contacted her since.
The Interior Ministry spokesperson told OC Media that they were not investigating claims by Giorgi Neparidze that two police officers threatened to plant weapons and drugs on him.
UPDATE 2 02/06/21: Following OC Media’s repeated inquiries to the Interior Ministry, Neparidze reported that the ministry had contacted him and would open an investigation into his allegations that police officers threatened to plant weapons and drugs on him.