CSOs condemn politically motivated physical confrontations in Zugdidi and Batumi
Civil Society Organizations condemn recent politically motivated violent confrontations and retaliations that took place in Zugdidi and Batumi.
On March 15 representatives of the Georgian Dream Coalition, the Public Movement and others organized a rally in Zugdidi. The participants protested against a United National Movement (UNM) rally planned for March 21, and demanded the UNM stop its meetings with the local population. The rally eventually escalated into violence.
The protesters first held a rally at the UNM office and later moved to outside the office of a civil society organization Center for Freedom and Support, where MP Akaki Minashvili and UNM supporters were gathered. After an initial verbal confrontation, the protesters broke into the building with batons and clashed with the UNM supporters inside. Afterwards, the protesters returned to the UNM office, where supporters of the two political parties clashed with batons and threw rocks and eggs at each other. Several persons were injured, including law enforcement officers.
Law enforcement officers attempted to keep the situation under control. They were not properly mobilized and organized when the protesters broke into the building. As a result, they were unable to prevent the confrontation and to separate the two opposed parties both of whom were armed with batons.
Especially noteworthy is the fact that the rally was attended by Zugdidi City Council’s Georgian Dream representatives (as revealed by video footage aired by media outlets) as well as other public officials and regular public servants that are activists of, or represent, the Georgian Dream Coalition.
The protest was attended by the chairperson of Zugdidi Municipality Council – Merab Kvaraia, chairperson of the council faction Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia – Karlo Ghadua, chairperson of the council’s Healthcare and Social Affairs Commission – Natalia Sherozia, chairperson of the council of the self-governing community Zugdidi municipality – Lasha Gogia, chairperson of the faction Christian – Conservative – Kakha Changelia, council members from the ruling coalition – Mamuka Tsotseria, Iuruza Kakava and Lasha Todua, member of Khobi Municipality Council – Lasha Gvasalia, Zugdidi City Hall employee – Tadeoz Patsatsia, employees of Zugdidi Municipality Administration – Temur Todua, Meri Shengelia, Mziuri Kvaratskhelia, Bezhan Churghulia and Edem Kekutia, council office employees – Magdalina Todua and Tamuna Jikia, head of Zugdidi Municipality Museum Union – Kote Gurguliani, and head of Zugdidi Municipality Central Library – Madona Makatsaria.
Another political confrontation took place in Batumi on March 14. Two employees of a Batumi City Hall-owned company Batumi Auto Transport Ltd. Merab Ghoghoberidze and Giorgi Tushmanishvili together with some of their supporters verbally insulted and threw eggs at Petre Zambakhidze, a UNM representative member of the Supreme Council of Adjara, at the Center for Civic Engagement (CCE). A group of several persons was demanding an explanation from Zambakhidze as to why he made statements against the chairperson of the Supreme Council and why Jemal Putkadadze was elected as its deputy speaker. The Ministry of Internal Affairs started an investigation based on Article 166 of the Code of Administrative Violations, which deals with petty hooliganism. It should be noted that one of the participants of the incident Merab Ghoghoberidze quit his job on the same day.
Freedom of expression, including the freedom to hold and express political views, is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Georgian Constitution and international conventions. The fact that recent violent incidents in Zugdidi and Batumi occurred due to differences in political views is concerning. These incidents are incompatible with principles of a democratic society, which are based on political pluralism and respect for dissenting opinion.
We call on the government to ensure an environment free of violence for all people to be able to express their opinions and conduct peaceful activities. The government must also take measures to hold public officials participating in violence responsible not only legally (if confirmed) but also politically.
We call on the law enforcement authorities to conduct a comprehensive, timely and effective investigation. All participants of the confrontation must be identified and brought to justice. It is also important for law enforcement agencies to fully embrace political neutrality by performing their duties impartially, objectively and honestly during the process of preventing violence, protecting citizens and investigating crimes. The police and investigative units must prove their impartiality towards the interests of any political group with their professional performance.
We call on the political parties involved in this confrontation as well as their supporters, all political players and civil society organizations to strictly refrain from any kind of violence, and to respect and observe the law and the Constitution.
International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED)
Transparency International Georgia
Georgian Young Lawyers' Association
Civil Development Agency (CiDA)
Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC)