Former member of the opposition United National Movement (UNM) party, Irakli Chkhirkvia, and the head of the Anti-Corruption Information Centre, a local anti-graft group, Merab Ghoghoberidze were arrested on 23 April for ‘organising a riot’, more than a month after violence rocked Georgia’s port city of Batumi.
Merab Ghoghoberidze was detained on 23 April for ‘disobeying the police’ after being fined for not wearing a seatbelt. Local magazine, Batumelebi, reported that he was taken to Batumi City Court, before becoming ill and being taken to hospital. By 19:00, he was back in court and soon released without further action, after signing a confession.
However, he was detained again as he left court, on new charges of ‘organising a riot’, which is punishable by 6–9 years in prison. Batumelebi quoted Ghoghoberidze’s lawyer as saying that he was prevented from visiting the defendant for 3 hours.
A disagreement over a parking fine led to a violent riot on the night of 11–12 March in Batumi, the capital of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara. The protests were marked by disobedience and contempt towards the new chief of Batumi’s police force, who had reportedly tightened fining policy in the city.
However, protest rallies against the new police chief had already started by 9 March. The first rally was attended by Ghoghoberidze, who refers to himself as a human rights defender, and four other people.
Ghoghoberidze admitted to Rustavi2 on 12 March that he was the organiser of the rallies, but did not take responsibility for the violence, instead blaming the authorities for ‘not reacting in time’.
The other arrested man, Irakli Chkhirkvia, stood with the protesters in Batumi on the night of the riot, and demanded the resignation of the new police chief.
Chkhirkvia publicly requested a meeting with the Minister of Internal Affairs on behalf of the protesters, and asked for guarantees that no one would be arrested. He gave the government an hour and a half to meet his demands, promising that the riot would calm down during that time.
Later on 12 March, UNM expelled Chkhirvia from the party, claiming that he made his statement without their consent, and that his views did not reflect the party's position.
[For a broader picture, read OC Media’s report — Making sense of Georgia’s Batumi Riot]