Two police officers have been arrested in Tbilisi after footage appeared to show one of them beating a deaf teenager in custody, while the other looked on.
A video originally uploaded to TikTok on Monday showed an officer repeatedly slapping and punching a 17-year-old boy in the face as he tried to shield himself from the blows.
The footage showed the boy, who is deaf, being detained in the Isani metro station in Tbilisi before being led to a small room where the attack commenced.
‘He’s deaf-mute? What if I make him speak now? I’m going to make him speak now’, the officer is heard saying as he takes the escalator with the detainee and those accompanying him prior to the attack.
The footage, which has been widely shared online, has been met with public outrage, not least due to suspicions that the boy likely had trouble communicating with the officers.
A friend of the victim who witnessed the attack told Tabula that the victim was detained for sitting on an escalator handrail and that he was kicked by a police officer even before the assault in the room began.
The Interior Ministry was quick to condemn the violence and announced a probe by their General Inspection into the incident
Georgia’s State Inspector’s Service, a separate, standalone agency tasked with investigating grave abuses of power, meanwhile released more details of the incident on Tuesday morning.
They said that one officer from the Metropolitan Unit of the Patrol Police Department had been charged with inhuman or degrading treatment of a helpless or dependent person by an official while another faces charges of exceeding authority and failing to report the incident.
Independent MP Tamar Kordzaia reacted to the news on Twitter, writing: ‘#PoliceBrutality is widespread and getting worse every day’.
The heartbreaking footage we say yesterday of a deaf child severely beaten by the police shows that this whole system is based on violence.#PoliceBrutality is widespread and getting worse every day.
The question is, how do we respond as a nation?
— Tamar Kordzaia (@KordzaiaTamar) January 25, 2022
The incident has sparked several protests — including one by members of the deaf community outside the government offices on Tuesday.
A ‘system which is entirely discriminatory’
'For the [deaf] community, it was an assault on each of them, that was the perception’, Maia Metonidze, the Deputy Chair of the Union of Deaf of Georgia told TV Pirveli on Monday. ‘The worst phrase [from the police officer] was that he would make him speak.’ The Union has demanded that both police officers be punished ‘to the fullest extent of the law’.
Ekaterine Tortladze, who chairs the Aures Foundation, an advocacy group for deaf and partially deaf young people in Georgia, confirmed that the Interior Ministry was working with the community, including her organisation, to address any insensitivity to the deaf community among their employees.
‘The key is to implement the recommendations’, she told OC Media. ‘Our state does not suffer from a lack of unimplemented action plans’.
Tortladze abstained from identifying the possible motive behind the attack, but said that if the victim was a minor with a disability, this aggravated the responsibility of the state further.
She criticised the Interior Ministry for only releasing a statement after footage of the incident went viral, instead of making arrests immediately as ‘the evidence was abundant’.
Ana Arganashvili, the Executive Director of the Partnership for Human Rights, a Georgia-based group advocating for the rights of minors and people with disabilities, described the incident as a hate-motivated crime under a ‘system which is entirely discriminatory’.
‘He fell victim because he was vulnerable and in a place where he could not defend himself and where no one was around to help’, Arganashvili told OC Media.
‘It’s not necessary for someone to hate [for a crime to be considered a hate crime], when you oppress someone because one is different and defenceless, that’s the essence of a hate motive.’
Arganashvili said the Interior Ministry had extensively reported on sensitivity training provided to their employees, but insisted that it was the results that were ‘what matters’.
She told OC Media she expected the ‘whole system’ of law enforcement agencies to try to minimise their accountability in this case, and to shift public focus on the victim’s ‘record of behaviour and bad lifestyle’.
‘This would not be the first case. Let’s remember the case of Luka Siradze. In every case, the system blames the victim’, she said.
[Read more on OC Media: Teenage boy takes own life in Tbilisi following ‘psychological abuse’ by police]
Arganashvili also underlined the crucial factor of the independence of the State Inspector’s Service, which is due to undergo a controversial overhaul in March, that critics warn is tantamount to abolishing it. She said this would ‘aggravate the lack of accountability’ among law enforcement agencies.
Despite criticism, the ruling Georgian Dream party adopted the changes to the State Inspector’s Service in an accelerated manner — insisting that the reform was not a response to reports critical of the government by the Service.
[Read more on OC Media: Georgian authorities move to 'abolish' crucial check on official abuses]