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Voice | They slapped me and called me a faggot: my experience with the Tbilisi police 

20 May 2022
Giorgi Mzhavanadze. Courtesy photo.

Giorgi Mzhavanadze, an activist and director of the Georgian liberal group the Shame Movement, was detained on 7 March in Tbilisi after organising an anti-government and pro-Ukraine demonstration outside the government offices in Tbilisi.

After facing a ₾2,800 ($965) administrative fine for cursing at police officers and resisting arrest, a charge he denies, on 17 May he again ended up in the hands of the police, at the Ninth Police Department of Gldani-Nadzaladevi, Tbilisi. 

I want to tell you the story of my detention; because I know that this case is bigger than my personal experience — it is a feature of the system.

You probably remember Luka Siradze, a schoolboy who was attacked, threatened and humiliated by a detective trying to extract a confession. Luka left the police station and killed himself. Sometimes, stories like these sound incredible, but I now know for sure what Luka went through. 

On 15 May, a police officer called me and told me his name, but I’m not good with names. He told me that there was a letter for me in the police station and asked me to drop by and pick it up.

On 17 May, I left home around 17:00 and thought to pick it up on my way. The police officer confirmed by phone that I could come by, he said he would be waiting for me. 

I drove there, parked my car, and called him again to say I was entering the police station. He said he was out but would be back soon and that I could wait for him on the chairs inside. 

I entered the police station, and without asking anyone anything, since I could see the waiting chairs that were entirely free, I sat there to wait. 

At that moment, Anzor Gulua, a police officer on duty, approached me. He was glaring at me from the very start, and looked me up and down twice. I felt like he was unhappy with something, probably what I was wearing. It was warm outside, I wore shorts, a green T-shirt, and a cap and sunglasses. I was clearly an alien body for police officers dressed all in black.

He starts asking me: ‘Why did you sit here?’ 

I explained that I was waiting for a police officer who called me to come pick up a notice, that he had told me to enter and wait, and hence I sat here. The answer did not impress him and he asked me again, unhappily: ‘Who exactly called you here?’

‘I don’t know, some police officer called me’, I said.

‘A police officer is “some person” for you?’, he replies, already becoming aggressive.

‘I don’t know his name or a surname. I only have his phone number which I can show you’, I said. 

‘Get up and get out quickly, wait outside’, he says, raising his voice and scolding me. 

Meanwhile, other police officers enjoying the show approach us. 

‘Why should I wait outside? He told me to wait here and also, I’m a citizen, this building doesn’t belong to you only, it belongs to the people and I have a right to wait here’, I replied. I was irritated by the way he was ousting me from the police station. It became a matter of principle that he could not kick me out like a dog.

‘You can’t be in here with a phone’, he said, coming up with a new excuse. 

I was holding my phone because I called the police officer right before entering the station.

‘I’ll put it in my pocket and wait’, I say.

‘No, no telephone is allowed here at all. Get out!’, he replies.

‘All right, I’ll hand it over to you if you have a deposit box and wait’, I reply.

To my left was the office of the deputy police chief, Davit Kankava, who now emerged. Now the heavy artillery got involved. 

The detention

Kankava started waving his hand right in my face, the way you see on the streets (or not). I’m sitting motionless in my chair. He tells me that I’m rude for referring to a police officer as ‘some’ officer and also for not leaving when a police officer told me to. 

I repeated what I told the previous officer and asked why I had to leave. ‘Because’, he said, ‘I don’t need you here’. Like I wanted to be there anyway.

In short, after seeing that I wasn’t going anywhere, police officers in black grouped around me, grabbed my arms, and started to drag me towards the exit. I didn’t resist in any way. Since they had become physical, I went along, with three or four officers grabbing me. 

I already felt that something was going wrong so as soon as we were out of the building, I managed to pull out my phone and start filming. The police officers were still not letting me go.

I tried to free myself by shaking my shoulders. They didn’t like that, and one of them said: ‘why aren’t you detaining him?’ Another didn’t hesitate and said ‘arrest him!’

As soon as they heard the word, they grabbed me in a frenzy and dragged me back into the police station, dropped me on the floor, and pushed my face to the ground. 

I was screaming: ‘I’m obeying; I’m not resisting, so don’t treat me like that, stop dragging me’. There was no point; they kept doing it. 

One squeezed my neck, another twisted one arm, and another the other arm. I was on the floor. One of them held my foot and twisted it to the side; I felt a strong pain and I’m screaming that my leg is going to break, asking them to let go and telling them that I’m not resisting in any way. 

They continued detaining me in this way, each of them cursing at me as they do so, each in his own creative way. They handcuffed me tightly behind my back, tight enough to hurt. 

Then they stood me up and dropped me into a chair. Falling against my already tightly cuffed hands, it squeezed even more. They continued cursing. I was thinking: here it is, I’ve been arrested. 

I had no idea this was just the beginning.

‘Look how you look, you faggot’

The deputy chief, Davit Kankava, and another officer, a big guy, about 195 centimetres tall, stood in front of me; the other five or six officers made a circle around me. 

This Kankava put his face right in front of mine, cursed at me in disgust, and told me: ‘How dare you say “some police officer’, calling me insolent, before unexpectedly, slapping my face with his open palm with full force. 

It was a shock; I did not expect it at all. In a police station, in broad daylight, I sit handcuffed in the foyer, and I’m being slapped in my face. 

This big lump of an officer stands next to him. He slaps me on my other cheek with full force; then, again this Mr Kankava. 

All the while they’re cursing at me furiously. My hands were tied behind my back, I was unable to cover my face. I raised my knee and ducked my head to cover my face. ‘Pull down this knee you mutherfucker’, one of them says, and then the same again, they slap my face as hard as they can. 

Some were standing behind me, they also contributed; one of them punched me in the head. And they repeated the same thing, saying ‘now you’ll know that a police officer is not “some person” ’. 

A couple of slaps landed on my ear and I suddenly felt a very strong ringing in my right ear, it was like the right side of my face had frozen entirely. I heard that ringing for two days. Now it comes and goes; I keep snapping my fingers to check but can’t decide if it has affected my hearing or not.

The shock was even stronger than the pain — the shock that it was so dark at the police station, on this bright and sunny day. When they were satisfied with hitting me, they continued with the cursing and threats. 

I looked up and immediately looked for cameras, thinking that all of them would be arrested for doing such a thing. I was surprised not to see a single one, even though I was sitting in the foyer of a police station. They probably knew there were no cameras covering that spot, and that’s why they dared to do it, I thought. 

I never once uttered an offensive word back to them. All I did, without stopping, was repeating to them that they were violent and criminals.

The big guy was constantly threatening to have me beaten up again. I still didn’t stop, and eventually, he said I was crazy and that ‘there’s no point’. 

I read the report of my detention in court; it said I was calling them ‘slaves’, cursed at them, and called them ‘illiterates’ and ‘ignorant’. I used none of those words.

The big guy told me: ‘I’ve been working here for 14 years. I fuck up people like you. I’m everything — a thief-in-law [a high ranking member of the criminal underworld], a dzveli bichi, a policeman’. You’ve had some impressive life, I tell him. What else to say?!

They continued their verbal abuse and threats for another half hour. The big guy kept repeating that if I didn’t shut up he would take me downstairs and make me ‘take it in my mouth’. At one point he lost his temper, charging toward me again to hit me. Some of them turned out to be reasonable enough to stop him. 

Then he called someone, telling them to ‘bring that, let’s shave this motherfucker’s head’. It made me laugh. How did this even cross his mind — to shave me. ‘I’m going to shave you down there near your dick’, he added. I couldn’t believe my ears. 

Then Kankava comes back, curses at me, and says: ‘You faggot, look how you’re dressed! Don’t you know that you can’t show up to a police station like that? Look how you look, you faggot. 

‘Come take his picture’, he told another officer, who stood me up and took my photo. By the way, I was dressed just great. 

They were continually abusing me verbally, trying to humiliate me. They were threatening to visit me without their uniforms, saying they would fuck me up. They said they knew my address and that I wouldn’t be able to hide from them.

‘Full circle’

They brought in a younger, confused, timid, and at first glance, dumber, officer, supervised by another ‘experienced’ officer, who was dictating to him what to put into the report. 

When I read the report, it had only four sentences; I don’t understand why it took them half an hour. The one writing the report, Joni Samkharadze, didn’t even participate in my detention, but somehow he was still tasked to write it up. 

As he filled in the report, I told him they would be using him as a false witness. 

‘You’re going to go to court and give false testimony and that’s a criminal offence’, I told him. He was quite perplexed, suddenly looked up, and checked if there were cameras. After making sure there were none, he calmly carried on filling in the report. The big guy laughed at this: ‘Look at that motherfucking rat!’

When they were finally done with the report, they handed me over to three young police officers, put me in a private car, and took me to a temporary detention facility in Zahesi, on the outskirts of the city. 

I was sitting in the back with police officers to each side and I noticed that they seem a bit dispirited, even worried. There’s one very worried young man sitting next to me. Eventually, he mumbles: ‘It was me who called you to come’. ‘We come full circle’, I laugh. 

Giorgi Mzhavanadze was held in Zahesi for around 26 hours before being released without charge. After the incident was made public, the Special Investigative Service announced they were launching a probe for possible abuse of power by law-enforcement officers. 

Mzhavanadze’s account of the story was translated from Georgian and adapted by Shota Kincha.

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