Charges, involving “exceeding official powers with aggravated circumstances”, in connection to break up of a protest rally in downtown Tbilisi on May 26 2011, have been filed against ex-PM and former interior minister Vano Merabishvili, the Georgian prosecutor’s office said on Tuesday.
Merabishvili, who is secretary general of UNM party, was arrested on May 21 in connection to two separate cases and charged with abuse of power, misspending/embezzlement and bribing of voters. Court in Kutaisi sent him to pretrial detention on May 22. Merabishvili denies charges as part of government’s “political retribution” against opponents.
The Georgian Prosecutor’s Office said on May 28 that new charges against Merabishvili were related to breaking up of an anti-government protest rally, led by ex-parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze, after midnight on May 26, 2011; Merabishvili was the interior minister at the time. One policeman and three protesters died. The death of a policeman and one protester was attributed to a car crash when a motorcade, taking several protest leaders away from the protest scene, drove into the crowd. And death of two protesters was attributed by official investigation at the time to electrocution on a roof of a shop, close to the protest venue; later reports emerged casting doubt on this official version.
Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement that “large scale and indiscriminate attack on people with dissent political views”, who were gathered on Rustaveli Avenue on the night from May 25 to May 26 in 2011, was planned under “personal instructions and supervision” of then interior minister Vano Merabishvili.
Prosecutor’s Office said that the operation was “not a dispersal” of protest rally with legitimate use of proportional force with a purpose of expelling participants of the rally from the protest venue. It said that the operation had “an explicit goal to arrest, intimidate, punish and to pressurize physically and psychologically” the participants of the rally.
Prosecutor’s Office said that the protest venue outside the former Parliament building was encircled by the riot and other police forces without leaving free passage for protesters to disperse. It also said that although protesters were notified in advance to disperse, it was “only a formality” and the protesters were not given reasonable time to leave the area voluntarily. When the official notified protest leaders to disperse, they refused.
“Unjustifiably disproportionate and excessive force was used deliberately,” Prosecutor’s Office said. “As a result two people died (investigation is ongoing to verify causes of their death) and over three hundred people were injured… Dozens of groundless arrests were made.”
It also said that then leadership of the Interior Ministry resorted to “deceptive” punishment of 15 police employees in connection to the break up of the May 26, 2011 protest rally.
“None of them were personally involved in breaking up of the protest rally… and three of them had already been suspended from the Interior Ministry before the protest rally,” Prosecutor’s Office said.
Merabishvili has been charged under several parts of article 333 of the criminal code, involving exceeding of official powers committed with use of force that resulted into insult of personal dignity of a victim; the charges carry prison term from three to five years.