Gali Population Beaten Up on the Border, Not Allowed to Vote
The Abkhaz authority threatened severe sanctions before the local government elections on October 5. They warned Georgians not to participate in the election in Zugdidi or risk punishment.
Abkhaz police began threatening Georgians a week before the local elections. Additional military forces were placed on the Enguri Bridge. To discourage Georgians from going to Zugdidi to vote on Election Day, four military helicopters patrolled the Enguri section. The Enguri Bridge is the only connection between Gali region and Zugdidi and the rest of Georgia.
According to Gia Lomaia, deputy of the Gali governor, only residents of four villages (a total of 24 villages are located in the Gali region) were permitted to participate in the elections. “Abkhazia tries not to let people cross the Enguri Bridge. Every person who crosses the bridge is interviewed and asked what the purpose of the visit is. Only people who have passes, issued by the Abkhaz authority, can easily cross the bridge. That is why only a few people are able to vote. A few people managed to cross the bridge from the villages of Otobaia, Nabakevi and Barghebi.”
Temur Mzjavia, the head of the Ministry Council of the Legitimate Government of Abkhazia [Georgian authority] talked about an incident, which took place on the Enguri Bridge. “Abkhazia has carried out demonstrations of force in Gali region for the last couple of days. They tried to threaten the Georgian population before the elections. They were threatening people with severe sanctions if they took part in the elections. Several inhabitants of the village of Otobia were physically assaulted by Abkhaz police when they tried to cross the bridge.”
Residents of Gali reported that they were afraid to go to Zugdidi. “Abkhaz police had already visited almost every family in Gali region and warned us not to go to the polling place. If we did not obey them, they threatened to use force against us. They said that we were citizens of [Abkhazia] and that we did not have the right to take part in elections held in [another country]. They said that it is a violation of the Abkhaz Constitution and that we would be arrested if we did not obey,” said one resident of Gali region, Ketevan G. “We know [the Abkhaz authority] is very cruel, and we were afraid. As far as we know, only one person in twenty participated in the election. Mostly women were able to cross the bridge. To avoid any incidents, men stayed at home.”
Lamzira D., another resident of Gali, witnessed an incident that took place near the Enguri Bridge. According to her, a young boy was beaten up by the Abkhaz police who would not let him into Zugdidi. “Several women from the area where I live decided to cross the bridge together. The [Abkhaz] police interviewed everyone. Some of us said that we were going to funeral, and others gave different answers. [The police] presumed we were lying and would not allow us to cross the bridge. They physically assaulted one woman and when her son tried to defend her, the police then assaulted the boy. They wrote down our names and said that ‘they will take care of us later’.”
Because of these problems, [the majority of the] inhabitants of the Gali region, (more then 45 to 50,000) could not take part in the elections. Only a small group of people were able to go to Zugdidi to vote.
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