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Demonstrators Bound for Tbilisi Detained

15.01.2008
Law enforcement did their best to prevent people from Samegrelo traveling to Tbilisi to attend the January 13 protest. Opposition party representatives were arrested to prevent their attendance as well. Nearly ten people were detained for drug analysis or a lack of driving or technical licenses. Cars were taken to the impound lot and nearly 150 activists were forced out of their cars and into nearby forests.

The first incident happened in Zugdidi. Local police arrested Paata Sordia, the head of Levan Gachechiladze’s election headquarters and chairman of the district branch of the Tavisfuleba political movement, Lasha Kvaratskheli, a member of the HQ, and his niece Tsira Chikovani. “Today at 8:00 am,” Paata Sordia says, “we were arrested close to the Wissol petrol station while refueling for the trip to Tbilisi. Officers from the Zugdidi criminal police…they seized our mobile phones and let us make only one phone call. Lasha and I were then taken to the drug center for analysis. Tsira was interrogated in the Police Department Chief’s office.”

The detainees spent four hours in the Zugdidi police station. Police did not ask them questions about the current situation in the country, although Sorida claims that law enforcement had no other reason for drug testing and detaining them. The principle reason for their detention was their intention to attend the opposition demonstration, they believe, and the government attempted every method to hinder them from going to Tbilisi.

The detainees were released only after the drug analysis proved that they were not under the influence of drugs. Lasha Kvaratskhelia’s car was taken to the Zugdidi police impound-lot. It was later clarified that Kvaratskhelia had left his driver’s license at home.

Until Sordia and Kvaratskhelia were taken to the police station, Tengiz Gergedava, chairperson of the regional branch of the political movement Tavisufleba, and Aleksandre Getia, a member of Gachechiladze’s election HQ, were locked in the Zugdidi office of the opposition HQ for four hours. They were forcibly held hostage as Sordia had the key with him when he was detained.

“It was still dark at 8:00 am and we noticed suspicious people moving around out office and we decided to lock the door,” Tengiz Gergedava says. “Finally, Paata left the office and took the key with him. After four hours, the watchman opened the door.”

Suspicious or official people were noticed near Gachechiladze’s Election HQ when the detainees were released. Officials from the Constitutional Security Department’s (CDS) Zugdidi office stopped opposite to the office in an Opel car (license plate number LEL-191) and a Lada Niva (license plate number FAD-742). Law enforcement, wearing dark sunglasses and watching from darkened car windows, lurked in a secret way. Their presence was so obvious, however, that even passers-by knew who they were.

The Human Rights Center decided to see what the people in the cars themselves had to say. Lado Konjaria, one of the people in the Opel, refused to comment on the situation and simply pushed his sunglasses up. Two men sitting in the Niva locked the doors and pulled down the window’s sun shades. They became quite irritated when photographed and soon changed their tactics. Released oppositionists were giving interviews on the pavement outside the office and they managed to drive around six times. When it was clear that physical oppression had not succeeded and that political activists were not afraid, they began to videotape the interview in vain.

Representatives of the Human Rights Center were also shot by law enforcement. Reports stated that law enforcement planned to arrest new people, suggesting that the CDS had not reached the end of its tricks.

The result was law enforcement chasing the taxi where the Human Rights Center representative was sitting with Sordia, Gergedava, Getia and Kvaratskhelia. The taxi was followed into the city center, recorded by video camera nearly the whole way. The taxi driver was soon able to loose the car following him and set off on the way to Tbilisi.

Policemen from Senaki were working pro-actively, as well. By 9:00 am, two seized cars (a Rafi and an Opel) were already standing in front of the newly repaired building of the Seanki Police Station. Two drivers, Levan Mashava and Manuchar Lashkarava, were placed in the pre-trial detention isolator, which no one was able to elaborate on. Valeri Chachua, the Chief of Police, was not in the office, nor was Kakha Lataria, the head of the criminal police department. Duty Policemen locked the door shut and pulled down blinds on the windows. Levan Mashava’s parents waited at the police station since the early morning and learned that their son was taken to Zugdidi for drug testing.

It later became clear that policemen who were going to the opposition demonstration in Tbilisi were also arrested by Senaki policemen and sent to the forest near Old Senaki. “Police met us at the exit from Senaki,” says Mzia Gadelia, leader of the Conservative Party. “We were driving in three cars. They were following and insulting us and then left us in the forest. Valeri Chachua and Besik Chkhetia, the head of the Police department, were particularly active that day.”

Taxi drivers were ordered to take their cars to the Senaki police station, which resulted in only Mashava and Lashkarava being arrested and all others released. At 6:00 pm, both detainees were released as well.

A similar situation could be found in the Abasha and Martvili districts. Dato Darsmelidze, the head of the Abasha Police department, blocked the way for opposition supporters on the way to Tbilisi. Police in Martvili made passengers turn back from the Khoni highway. Two mini-buses stood at the Khoni Police station until 7:00 pm.

Kakha Mikaia, the leader of the political movement Tavisufleba and coordinator of Levan Gachechiladze’s election HQ in the Samegrelo Region, calls these actions terrorism. “Winners do not act like that. Only scared people and cowards are using such methods. I repeat once more, Samegrelo is neither a national preserve for Saakashvili and his National Movement nor a cradle for revolutionaries. Samegrelo is and will always be the back-bone of Georgia. I warn criminals, bandits and enemies of Georgia’s interests-- Saakashvili, Merabishvili, Kemularia, Gorozia, Akhalaia and Kobalia-- that Samegrelo will be the first to give you a proper answer, that you cannot use Samegrelo for your own will! Samegrelo will never surrender!”

Nana Pazhava, Zugdidi


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