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Demand for unconditional release of the Georgian citizens

July 30, 2020
Lado Bitchashvili, Shida Kartli

It has been almost a month since the two Georgian citizens were illegally detained by the occupation forces. Khvicha Mghebrishvili, resident of village Mejvriskhevi in the municipality of Gori, and Zaza Gakheladze resident of the village Kvemo Chala in the municipality of Kaspi remain in Tskhinvali prison up to now. The occupation regime is conducting an investigation against Mghebrishvili and Gakheladze under several articles in addition to the so-called border crossing.

The family has been looking for 47-year-old Khvicha Mghebrishvili since July 3. At first they thought he had gone to work, but as they could not contact him and Khvicha did not return home, they informed the police. After appealing to the police, it was established through the hotline that Khvicha Mgebrishvili had been transferred to the Tskhinvali pre-trial detention center. According to the abductee's relatives and family members, they did not want to divulge the fact of abduction, as they thought that it could have prevented release of Khvicha. Days were passing, but nothing was heard about Khvicha Mghebrishvili. His family and other locals in the village decided to hold a protest rally with the request of his release. According to the family's information, Khvicha Mghebrishvili was detained by the occupation forces near the village Adzvi. During the arrest, they fired several shots, but Khvicha Mghebrishvili was not injured.

On July 17, based on the information from de facto s investigative agencies of Tskhinvali, the Tskhinvali media disseminated the video about Khvicha Mghebrishvili's interrogation, in which Khvicha tells that he had crossed the territory controlled by Tskhinvali, in particular in Gromi, to catch the bats that are on the Red Book. For each bat Khvicha would get USD 5000 from the Lugar Research Center. Based on the so-called confession, Khvicha Mgebrishvili was sentenced to two months of pre-trial detention and was charged for smuggling the rare species of bats included in the Red Book.

"Since 2012, there has been a wide interest towards South Ossetian bat population by the so called Lugar Center for Public Health Research." "In 2012, 2014 and 2018, laboratory staff systematically caught different bat species at the boundary region of South Ossetia - Shida Kartli,"a statement issued by the  Security Committee of the de facto republic.

According to Khvicha Mghebrishvili's brother, Jumber Mghebrishvili, law enforcement agencies of de facto republic, put pressure on the detainee and made Khvicha to confess such a crime, which he did not actually commit.

"The text what my brother is repeating was probably written for him and he was forced to say this nonsense. No one believes in this. There are so many bats in Mejvriskhevi, why would he have gone to Ghromi. Neither me nor anyone else believes this nonsense. We demand my brother to be released shortly. He is a craftsman and has his own income. He does not need to hunt on bats," said Jumber Mghebrishvili.

The Georgian government considers the statement of the Security Committee of de facto republic of Tskhinvali as a continuation of the hysteria stemming from the Kremlin propaganda towards Lugar laboratory, the opinion recently also shared by the occupied Tskhinvali region. 

On July 11, Zaza Gakheladze, a resident of the village of Kvemo Chala in Kaspi Municipality, was detained by the occupants near Skhvilo fortress. Zaza Gakheladze went to bring mushrooms together with his friend. Skhvilo fortress and the surrounding area is controlled by the Georgian government. According to the representatives of the anti-occupation movement, the Russian occupants detained 33-year-old Zaza Gakheladze in the territory controlled by Georgia. The arrest was preceded by a shooting, as a result of which Zaza Gakheladze was wounded in the leg.

The occupation regime confirms the wounding of Zaza Gakheladze, but they say that Zaza was the one who opened the fire first. Zaza Gakheladze's friend Koba Paresashvili was able to run away from the occupiers, he has no contact with the media. However, as Koba Paresashvili's mother says, the representatives of the occupation forces appeared suddenly and opened fire against Zaza. Koba Paresashvili managed to escape, however Zaza was wounded in the leg hence he could not move. So called "border guards" arrested Zaza and took him to Akhalgori direction. According to Maia Paresashvili, Georgian law enforcers conducted a crime reenactment together with her son and it turned out that the representatives of the occupation forces themselves had crossed into the territory controlled by Georgia.

"The police took my son, they saw the area where Zaza was abducted. The police also said that the occupiers had crossed into our controlled territory," Maia Paresashvili said.

According to de facto military prosecutor of Tskhinvali, Tigran Kabulov, the case against Gakheladze is  initiated under two articles: - he is accused of attempted murder of a military serviceman and of illegal crossing of the so-called state border. According to Tigran Kabulov, Gakheladze had a self-made handgun, also, he did not obey the order to stop while crossing the border and tried to escape. According to the Russian side, Zaza Gakheladze was the first to open the fire and  he shot 10 times. He was slightly wounded when being fired back. 

Zaza Gakheladze's family does not agree with the statement issued by the Russian Federation or the de facto agencies. According to the family, Zaza Gakheladze may have had only a hunting rifle from which he could not make  10 shots. 

The Georgian authorities refer to the accusations brought against both Georgian citizens - Mghebrishvili and Gakheladze as a nonsense made  by the de facto law enforcement agencies. From time to time the representatives of the authorities  meet with both Mghebrishvili and Gakheladze family members and provide them with the latest information on what steps they are taking in order  to release the abducted citizens. At one of such meetings,  Irakli Antidze, a representative of the State Security Service, and Lia Gigauri, acting Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality, stated to Gakheladze's family that at a meeting scheduled for July 30 in Ergneti, the Georgian authorities  will demand the unconditional release of the two Georgian citizens, Zaza Gakheladze and Khvicha Mghebrishvili,  held illegally in Tskhinvali prison.

"This meeting is very important for us  in order to discuss in details these and other incidents with the co-chairs,  as well as with the head of the monitoring mission and all other involved parties, and importantly, to demand the immediate, unconditional and actual release of the illegally detained people," said Lia Gigauri.

According to Irakli Antidze, it has been almost a year since the parties have not discussed these kinds of problems face to face, as a result the number of incidents in the villages near the occupation line has increased.
"The central government will raise all the problematic issues that have accumulated during the last 11 months. The last meeting of the mentioned format was held in August last year and there have been no more meetings since,” said Irakli Antidze.

The family members of the abductees hope that the Georgian government will reach an agreement with the de facto government of Tskhinvali at the meeting scheduled for July 30 in Ergneti, and the illegal detention of Zaza Gakheladze and Khvicha Mghebrishvili will be over.