Series of arrests of more than twenty of politically active individuals, among them activists from the Georgian Dream opposition coalition, mainly for alleged administrative offenses, and shortcomings revealed in legal proceedings undertaken in at least several of these cases, raise suspicion that detentions were politically motivated, watchdog groups said.
The Georgian Dream opposition coalition, led by Bidzina Ivanishvili, said on September 24 that “up to twenty of its activists and supporters” had been arrested over the past few days in various parts of the country. Meanwhile, the ruling United National Movement (UNM) also reported on September 24 about sixteen cases of verbal, physical assault on its activists and campaign staff offices.
Tbilisi-based legal advocacy and watchdog group, Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) said on Tuesday that 23 people were arrested for alleged administrative offences in a period between September 21 and September 24; part of these people are either activists of the Georgian Dream or otherwise affiliated to this opposition coalition, according to GYLA.
Apart of Georgian Dream activists, six people, who were actively involved in recent protest rallies in Tbilisi against prison violence, were also arrested for alleged administrative offences, involving charges of resisting police orders; they were sentenced to prison term ranging from 10 to 40 days. One activist from a student group, also involved in those protests, was arrested on September 24 and released on September 25 after being fined with GEL 400.
GYLA said that in some cases circumstances and reasons of arrests, such as alleged violation of traffic rules and then alleged verbal insult of police officers or disobeying their orders, were so similar that it was triggering suspicion that charges over administrative offences were used as a pretext for politically motivated detentions.
GYLA representatives were acting as defense lawyers in three cases – one related to the arrest of a Georgian Dream activist in Mestia and two others related with prison abuse protesters in Tbilisi.
“In none of these cases the court allowed the defense to ask questions to the opposing party [during the court hearing], which has significantly restricted the right to defense. Not a single motion by the defense in these cases to question witnesses, other than the one about questioning a policeman, has been accepted. Court has also rejected to obtain and examine video footage and other recordings, which potentially could have contained important evidence,” GYLA said, adding that courts’ failure to act in an unbiased manner further fuels suspicion that series of arrests was motivated by politics.
Another Tbilisi-based watchdog group, Transparency International Georgia, said on September 23 that some of the recent arrests “do not seem to have been based on solid or reliable evidence.”
In particular, in its statement TI Georgia addresses cases of arrest of six people related to prison abuse protests in Tbilisi and two cases of arrest of Georgian Dream activists – one from Mestia and another one from Gori.
“These questionable arrests give us reason to suspect that certain politically active people are being intentionally targeted and removed from the ongoing electoral process,” TI Georgia said.
Meanwhile both the Georgian Dream and the ruling United National Movement (UNM) party are reporting about violence against their activists, blaming each other of attacks.
At least two activists of the Georgian Dream were beaten up reportedly by more than dozen of men armed with truncheons in Gori on September 24; activists were taken to hospital for treatment.
UNM released a statement late on September 24 reporting about five cases of intimidation and verbal abuse of its supporters; five cases of physical abuse and bodily injuries inflicted to its supporters allegedly by Georgian Dream activists.
In one case, the UNM said, its supporter was wounded in a knife attack by a Georgian Dream activist; the Interior Ministry said on September 24 that suspected perpetrator was arrested.
“We once again call Georgian Dream to reject violence as well as inciting hatred and bring to an immediate halt all such actions of their political leaders and supporters,” UNM said in a statement.
The Georgian Dream said that series of arrests of its activists was part of the authorities’ campaign of “political persecution”.