The Batumi City Court sentenced Irakli Chkhvirkia and Merab Gogoberidze, who were arrested on charges of organizing the March 11-12 unrest in Batumi, to one year and six months in prison.
The prosecution was seeking the suspects’ imprisonment under part 1 of article 225 of the Criminal Code involving “organization of group violence” and punishable for a term of six to nine years, but Judge Davit Mamiseishvili re-classified the charges to article 226, which entails “organization of or participation in activities disrupting public order” and sets the absolute maximum penalty at three years in prison.
Speaking on his ruling, Judge Mamiseishvili said there were no signs of Irakli Chkhvirkia organizing group violence, but added that Chkhvirkia was trying to “benefit” the opposition United National Movement party through his participation in the riots (Chkhvirkia was expelled from the party after the unrest). The second suspect, Merab Gogoberidze, did not attend the hearing.
The court hearing over the case was launched in May 2017. Both suspects denied the allegation against them, with the United National Movement and the European Georgia parties condemning the case as “politically motivated.”
The incident over a parking violation ticket on March 11 in the Black Sea resort town of Batumi turned violent as hundreds of Batumi residents protested what they regarded as “harsh” police practice of local law enforcement agency.
A total of 21 persons have been arrested over the riots, with 18 of those who pled guilty reaching plea bargaining deals with the prosecution. One more detainee, Lasha Dekanadze, who also denied the accusations, was sentenced last November to one year and three months in jail on hooliganism charges.
The defense lawyers of Chkhvirkia and Gogoberidze said that they would challenge the ruling in the Court of Appeals.