Thousands of protesters blocked Tbilisi’s central Rustaveli Avenue on Sunday demanding a proper investigation into last December’s fatal stabbing of two teenagers outside their school. The father of one of the victim’s accused the authorities of tampering with evidence during the investigation.
Davit Saralidze and Levan Dadunashvili were fatally wounded on 1 December 2017 in a brawl that followed an argument in central Tbilisi’s School #51. The conflict between ninth-year and eleventh-year students started with a verbal altercation in the school toilet and culminated with a fight involving dozens of young people outside the school’s premises on Khorava Street.
On 2 December, two teenagers were charged with ‘premeditated murder of an underage person’, and another three for failing to report the crime, one of whom was also charged with helping the suspects to flee. Their cases continue.
[Read more on OC Media: Arrests follow fatal school stabbing in Tbilisi]
Zaza Saralidze, the father of Davit Saralidze, organised the rally outside the parliament building on 27 May. ‘Let my son be the [last] victim — so tomorrow… young people do not die’, said Zaza Saralidze during his address to the crowd.
Several opposition political parties, public figures, and opposition-leaning TV station Rustavi 2 participated in the rally; however, the organisers decided not to allow politicians to address the crowds.
Also addressing the crowd at the demonstration was Malkhaz Machalikashvili, the father of teenager Termilan Machalikashvili, a teenage boy killed by security forces during a special operation in the Pankisi Valley in November. ‘I feel Zaza Saralidze’s pain as no one else does today; therefore, I and my people will always stand with the Saralidze family’, Machalikashvili said during his speech.
The Pankisi youth’s death following a counterterror siege in Tbilisi by the State Security Service was followed by calls for a transparent investigation.
‘A compromised investigation’
Saralidze’s family and supporters claimed the investigation into the stabbings had been compromised by evidence tampering.
The investigation has been plagued by allegations of misconduct since its launch, with Mirza Subeliani, the father of one of the participants of the brawl and a former high-ranking employee of the Prosecutor’s Office was allegedly caught on CCTV destroying evidence from the crime scene.
The Saralidze family said Subeliani would have had access to and could have influenced the investigation, and criticised the fact that he did not resign post until three days after the event.
The lawyer of one of the defendants has also claimed misconduct. Inga Sharashenidze and forensics expert Maia Nikoleishvili said that prosecutors threatened them after a report by Nikoleishvili contradicted the Prosecutor’s Office’s official version of events. Two days later, the Prosecutor’s Office confirmed they were looking into the matter.
‘Covering up a crime will not go unpunished
During the demonstration, Rustavi 2 TV host Nanuka Zhorzholiani also addressed the crowds recalling the 2006 Sandro Girgvliani murder case. An investigation into the case was ruled five years later as ‘lacking impartiality’ and ‘objectivity’ by the European Court of Human Rights.
In response, Tbilisi mayor Kakha Kaladze said he was ‘deeply concerned’ with the tragedy. Kaladze also raised the Girgvliani case, saying he was surprised by the ‘cynicism’ of members of the opposition United National Movement Party (UNM) attending the rally, who he said had disregarded the Girgvliani case.
‘I am also a father and I share Zaza Saralidze’s pain’, said Kaladze, adding that he expects a ‘clear and transparent investigation’ from the Prosecutor’s Office, ‘so that there are no unanswered questions’.
Nika Melia of the UNM was later quoted by GHN as saying that by referring to the Girgvliani case, Kaladze and his government were confessing there was a problem with the ongoing investigation. ‘The National Movement already bore responsibility [for the Girgvliani case] in the 2012 elections, and your group will have to pay a heavy political price for Saralidze’, Melia said.
On Monday, the head of the Parliament’s Human Rights Committee Sopo Kiladze offered to meet Saralidze’s family along with representatives of the Prosecutor’s Office.
Also on Monday, Elene Khoshtaria, an MP from the European Georgia Party, lodged a request in parliament to establish a special temporary committee to probe the investigation of the Saralidze-Dadunashvili murders.
Speaking to OC Media, Khoshtaria said that instead of answering ‘legitimate questions’, the Prosecutor’s Office was ‘treating the injured party [the Saralidze family] in a hostile way’.
Khoshtaria also criticised Kaladze as ‘not serious’ for commenting as if he were ‘an observer’, as the questions were addressed to his own party. ‘If anything could be learned from the Girgvliani case it is that covering up a crime will not go unpunished, whatever government is in power. So far the ruling party, which was eager to speak for years of past failures, is failing to properly address this particular case’, Khoshtaria said.