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“Have you been elated by Saakashvili’s medal?!” A Journalist who received Presidential Medal of Honor Abducted in Samegrelo

01.10.2008
Nana Pazhava, Zugdidi

Malkhaz Basilaia is the former correspondent of news report program Mzera (TV Company Mze), which was shut down several months ago. Malkhaz Basilaia was first detained by Abkhazians back in February 26, 2008 when he was the Mzera correspondent in the Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti Region. Abkhazians kept him in captivity for 10 days. Malkhaz would have never imagined that he would be later abducted and abused by Georgians some six months after this incident. Basilaia was detained by Georgians for three hours and during the ordeal was beaten and threatened with same sex rape and to be killed. Unfortunately, Georgians did what Abkhazians did not even think about- they acted as if they were going to rape the journalist.  9 armed people were beating the journalist in Jegera Forest and kept repeating one and the same words: “Have you been elated by Saakashvili’s medal?!”

Malkhaz Basilaia who now works for radio station Fortuna as a regional correspondent at present time was abducted by 9 armed persons wearing military uniforms on August 10th. On that day Basilaia was visiting with a relative in the village of Kheta, Khobi District together with his mother. It must be surprising that Basilaia has not spoken about his abduction out loud up to now. However, Basilaia now explains that he was silent for a month and a half because of the state martial law that lasted for about a month. The journalist recalled the terrible facts of how he was abducted and abused only in the Human Rights Center Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti Office.

Malkhaz Basilaia: “My mother and I visited Mzia Mirgatia, our relative for one day. Soon after having arrived, silver BMW car arrived to the gateway of my relative. A dark red car arrived as well after a while. The car passengers told something to each other and left. At 11 p.m. in 20 approximately minutes the cars arrived again. My relatives met them. They said they were police officers and asked for me.

Two young men in military uniforms asked me to come and speak with them. They said they had a few questions about my work. I agreed to talk. They offered me to sit in a dark red car and speak in quiet. However, when I entered the car I realized the conversation would not be calm and not quiet.

The BMW car and the car I was sitting in drove to the direction of Khemiskuri. The alleged police officers asked me what news report I was preparing from Kheta. I explained that I did not work in Mzera any more for the news program had been shut down. I said I had no camera with me and I was simply paying a visit to my relatives. Then they asked what I was stirring up trouble among the Kheta inhabitants. I could not understand what they were talking about. They did not specify what kind of so-called trouble that they were talking about.

Meanwhile, we approached the Jegeta Restaurant situated on the main road. They stopped the car and pushed me outside. They started beating me in stomach, head and all over the body. They were demanding that I would admit to being an agent and dissident – trouble maker. However, they did not say whose agent they thought I was working. They kept repeating “Have you been ecstatic and worked up by Saakashvili’s medal?!” The medal won’t save you now so you must just admit that you are an agent. Two men in uniforms, who were holding me whispered as if it was secretly from the chief, to admit or you will be killed.

I was being beaten for half an hour. When they did not hear the words of confession from me one of them, which I assumed their leader ordered the others to take the pants off me. They unbuckled the belt and took my pants off. One was ordered to do it as he could do it better than they….. Fortunately, they changed their mind and did not carry through. I was then pushed into the car and they told each other that they had to now kill me. One was asked if he had brought a sack, a spade and a pick to loosen the soil.

The cars headed for Zugdidi. They put my black T-shirt on my head so I could not see the road but the T-shirt was flimsy and I could see exactly where we were going. I saw that we had turned off from the main road and were going to the village of Didinedzi, Zugdidi District. At that moment someone called the “chief”. “Yes, ne, yes, ok then” he was saying. Apparently, he received some instructions and drove back to Kheta. They dropped me on the ground in the corn field near the place where I was first beaten. They proceeded to beat me there for the second time. Before leaving they said I had to act as I did not know them and they did not know me.”

It was one a.m. when Malkhaz Basilaia crept out of the corn field. He was half conscious. He addressed the inhabitants of Khamiskuri for their help. The family of Kukavas was first to come to his assistance. The journalist called his mother and relatives with his own cell phone, which for some reason had not been confiscated by the abusers.

Pavle Kukava: “My brother and I noticed Malkhaz on the main road. He was covered with mud and could hardly walk. He also had bruises on his face. He asked for shelter. We immediately recognized Malkhaz, as we knew him from television.”

It is noteworthy that Malkhaz Basilaia was abducted from the place which is only 6 meters far from the house of Zaza Lataria, the head of Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti Division of Constitutional Security Department of the Ministry of the Internal Affairs of Georgia. Mzia Mirgatia, the journalist’s relative immediately informed the family of Latarias about Basilaia’s abduction. However, Zaza Lataria expressed interest to this case neither after the abduction nor half a month later. Zaza Lataria’s mother does not deny that the journalist’s associates requested her to contact her son and ask for help.

Ia Lataria: “I saw neither abduction nor arrival of the journalist. His relatives asked for help. I and my husband Bondo kept calling our son. However, we failed to contact him. The Russians occupied Samegrelo on that same day and the situation was now much tensed. I did not know even where my son was. He leaves home in the morning and returns at 3 a.m. I have not even talked to him about Malkhaz Basilaia.”

Malkhaz Basilaia considers the abduction as attempted intimidation. He considers it has something to do with his desire to start working in Tele-Imedi.

Malkhaz Basilaia: “When Mzera was shut down, the TV company administration promised Mzera crew that everyone would be moved to work at Tele Imedi. Everyone started working in Imedi with the exception of me. I have attempted to meet with Mikheil Saakashvili many times. Aleko Parulava, Deputy General Director found out about it; I do not know how and he then asked me to meet with him. He promised to give me a job and asked me not to try to meet with the president in the future. I tried to hand my letter over to the president in the Ganmukhuri patriot camp. I wanted to ask him for a job. However, Zaza Gorozia, Samegrelo- Zemo Svaneti Regional Governor found out about my attempt and called me begging not to give the letter to the president. he also promised to help me in finding a job.  They tried to cut all possible ways to the president. I think they will start watching me closely.”

 In 15 days after the abduction, Malkhaz Basilaia informed Tengiz Gunava, who is the head the Main Division of Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti Regional Police about the incident on the phone and requested that the abductors be arrested. A criminal case was launched on the fact in Khobi Police. The journalist was interrogated for 7 hours. However, the investigation has not resulted in the arrest of any suspects up to present time.

Malkhaz Basilaia considers that the abductors are MIA Constitutional Security Department representatives. His allegation is based on the fact that the assaulters spoke in Georgian but with Mengrelian accent. The journalist can identify the criminals by their pictures.

On February 26, 2008 6 months before the incident Malkhaz Basilaia was detained by Abkhazian police in Gali when he was preparing a news report about the elections. He was released from an isolator cell of Sokhumi Security Department on March 6th. He was awarded a medal of honor by the president of Georgia on March 8th.

The journalist addresses human rights organizations for help. He wants to meet with the president of Georgia as well. If he is forbidden from meeting with Mikheil Saakashvili, Malkhaz Basilaia plans to protest the refusal.

 

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