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Disappearance on Ethnic Grounds

May 19, 2010
 Tea Topuria

Several ethnic Ossetians have disappeared during recent years (Khatuna Charaeva, Lavrenti Kaziev, Ibragim Laliev, Vladimer Eloev). The relatives finally found the missing people in the Georgian detention settings. Later, the law enforcement officers released the detainees and transferred them to the Tskhinvali regime. After studying their cases, we doubt that Georgian side arbitrarily detained Ossetians on purpose in order to involve them in espionage or to exchange them into Georgian hostages.

Khatuna Charaeva lives in the Ossetian-controlled village of Akhalgori. She earns her living by farming. The neighbors and relatives describe her as a positive person. She has never been accused in any illegal activities before. Periodically, she arrived in Tbilisi and one of her visits ended with detention. On December 18, 2009, 3 the police detained her in Didube bus-station.

New Year Present from Police

Khatuna Charaeva was accused of the attempt to disseminate fabricated money (Article 212 Part I and Article 19, 212 Part II – “a” of the Criminal Code of Georgia). The relatives learned about her detention only next day. The Georgian Young Lawyers Association was unsuccessfully trying to protect the detainee. The government appointed the state-funded lawyer for her. The Association was allowed to take up the case only later. However, lawyer Gagi Mosiashvili cannot speak about the case details publicly. The Counter-intelligence department of the ministry of internal affairs declared the case to be Griffith Secret. Consequently, neither journalists nor the relatives of Charaeva can study the case materials.

Merab Charaev, brother-in-law of Khatuna Charaeva: “On December 18, they brought walnut to sell in Tbilisi before the New Year. The police arrested four of them: Khatuna, her son, Khatuna’s sister-in-law and the son of the sister-in-law. We learned about it on December 19. Nobody got in touch with us; somebody called Khatuna’s brother-in-law (in the village of Sobisi in Gori district). Three days later everybody was released except Khatuna. The case was declared to be Griffith Secret. I appealed to the prosecutor’s office and requested clarification why the case was secret but I have not received the reply yet. They alleged that fabricated 30 000 USD was found in Khatuna’s bag. Khatuna has never seen 30 000 USD in her life.”

In accordance to the Georgian law, relatives shall learn about the detention of the person within 5 hours after detention. Besides that, the detainee has right to make one phone call in order to talk with his/her family members. The person disappeared for the relatives. Only later, they learned that she was arrested.

Nobody actually knows what happened in the first days of Charaeva’s detention. Neither her attorney knows about it.

Griffith Secret

People rumored from the very beginning that police detained ethnic Ossetian on political grounds. The lawyer of the GYLA Nino Khaindrava had similar doubt because the case was complete secret. The lawyer was requesting case materials for one month. Neither the relatives of the detainee had information about her. They initially even suspected that Charaeva was already killed. Later, she appeared at the court-hearing; however, journalists and relatives were not allowed to attend the process. The attorneys could not speak with media about the case details because it was Griffith Secret.

Journalists doubted that the case was declared secret in order to hush it away and not because of state secret in case materials. However, procedure of imposing and removal of Griffith Secret on the case does not allow the media sources to find out the truth. Only Khatuna Charaeva can request to remove the Griffith Secret from the case materials. However, she later pleaded guilty.

Gagi Mosiashvili, attorney of Khatuna Charaeva: “Charaeva did not plead guilty initially; however, later when they started speaking about plea-agreement, she admitted the crime.”

As a result of the plea-agreement, on March 29, Charaeva was released from the court-room under 6-year-long suspended sentence.

It is noteworthy that as a rule the basis of the plea-agreement is either paying of a fine or denouncing other more serious offender. The attorney said Charaeva neither paid any fine nor denounced anybody. The state considered that her confession was enough ground for plea-agreement.

“Freedom in exchange of nothing” – in Georgian reality similar thing rarely but happens. Confession before the release is guarantee for the state that the released person will not appeal against the authority. We asked the attorney Gagi Mosiashvili why it was necessary to make the case Griffith Secret but he said he does not have right to reply to the question.

Disappearance for the Second Time

One more strange fact happened after the judge of the Tbilisi City Court Nino Sandodze released Charaeva from the court-room. Charaeva disappeared for the second time. The bailiff took her out of the hall through the inner door. The attorney, relatives and journalists were waiting for the former detainee in the corridor. Then everybody started to look for her. Only two hours later they found out that Khatuna Charaeva was not in the court building; she was already in Tskhinvali. She was transferred to the Ossetian side.

Eka Kobesashvili, lawyer for the Human Rights Center: “If a prisoner is released from the court room, irons shall be removed from him/her and allowed to go home through the entrance door. The judge was entitled to observe how procedures were carried out. If a released person is led out of the court-room by the bailiff through the inner door, it is violation and disciplinary liability can be imposed on the judge.”

Attorney Gagi Mosiashvili confirms the same. In fact Charaeva was not released from the court-room. “I did not know where she was during two hours. Later, her relatives learned that she had crossed the border and was deported to the de-facto authority.”

At the moment Charaeva is in her house. The Human Rights Center asked the head of the Shida Kartli regional police department Vladimer Jugheli why Charaeva was deported to Tskhinvali authority and what her status was.

Journalist: What was Charaeva’s status when she was transferred to Tskhinvali authority?

Vladimer Jugheli: I do not know. The ministry sent her to me and I transferred her to the Tskhinvali regime. There were some negotiations in Geneva and based on it she was handed to Ossetian side. I do not know what they agreed in Geneva. They brought 4 people to me and I took them to Ossetian side. I mean Ossetian people who we had detained before.

Journalist: Which ministry sent them to you?

Vladimer Jugheli: Our ministry, Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Journalist: Who concretely called you?

Vladimer Jugheli: Shota Utiashvili (head of analytic department of the MIA).

Journalist: “Who were other detainees who were deported to Ossetian side together with Charaeva?

Vladimer Judgeli: I do not remember who the others were. I arrest 5 people a day. You should ask the person who knows about it. I belong neither to the prison, nor to the prosecutor’s office. I am in Shida Kartli region. She was detained in Tbilisi. Why and how she was detained, I do not know.

Journalist: Did you transfer them as hostages to Tskhinvali authority?

Vladimer Jugheli: No, we gave them their citizens, as it usually happens. They were our former hostages.

It is noteworthy that Georgia has joined the Geneva Convention of 1950 on the Treatment of Hostages. According to the convention, in non-war situation, a person cannot be captured. The government still claims that there are no hostages in Georgia; there are only prisoners. Shota Utiashvili denies that the real reason of transferring the prisoners to the Tskhinvali regime was exchange of hostages. In his interview with the Radio “Freedom” he said that they would never exchange murderers into peaceful civilians.

In addition to that, it is unclear what Jugheli meant in the term of “their citizens.” Georgia does not recognize the independence of Tskhinvali region and Charaeva is still citizen of Georgia. It is also unclear why the regional police department was ordered to transfer the free person to certain people as a prisoner.

In order to find out in accordance to which law the MIA acted when Khatuna Charaeva was deported to Tskhinvali regime, the Human Rights Center sent official letter to the MIA. Shota Utiashvili replied: "You should appeal to the  prosecutor's office regarding this issue." However, it is unclear why we should have appealed to the prosecutor's office, when it was the MIA, who deported Charaeva to Tskhinvali. The Center could not get in touch with the press-center of the ministry; nobody answered phone calls.

Missing Ossetian People

As it was already mentioned, Khatuna Charaeva was not the only person who was handed over to the Tskhinvali regime on March 29. Genadi Pliev from Tskhinvali and Vadim Tadaev from the village of Didmukha were together with her. Later, the Tskhinvali based news agency “Re” reported that Georgian law enforcement officers compelled Tadaev, Charaeva and Pliev to plead guilty in order to release them under amnesty. The news agency also reported that Georgia kidnapped Tadaev and Pliev in 2009.

The comment of Charaeva was also published in internet where she said that Georgian side offered her to report them about the ongoing situation in Akhalgori district. After she refused to cooperate with them, the charge was fabricated against her.

Journalist Mari Otarashvili, who permanently covers Charaeva’s case, said that similar facts frequently happen.

Mari Otarashvili: “I know that people are often detained on Georgian-Ossetian administrative border. Charaeva lived in a village and earned her living by farming. Thus, she could not have been politically persecuted. I think, she was arrested on ethnic grounds. Similar facts frequently happen lately.”

Finally, 6 people were handed over to Tskhinvali during two days – Charaeva, Pliev, Amzoev, Khistanov, Tadaev and Toroshelidze. They were taken across Ergneti checkpoint in two groups. At the same time, Ossetian side released resident of the village of Kirbali Mamuka Samkharadze who was arrested by Russian border guards when he was collecting branches in the forest.

Before the tenth Geneva discussion, Ossetian side categorically demanded Georgian side to release all detainees based on the principle – everybody in exchange of everybody. Although 6 Ossetian and one Georgian were released within several days, Georgian side does not admit that it was exchange of hostages.

Tamar Khidasheli, head of the Georgian Young Lawyers Association: “I think it is very negative practice when the Georgian side is involved in illegal process of exchanging hostages together with Tskhinvali regime. Tskhinvali side has captured ethnic Georgians for the illegal crossing of the border. In order to release these people, Georgian side also captured ethnic Ossetian people. I think it happens for the exchange. I exclude discrimination on ethnic grounds so far but if this practice continues, then we will be able to speak about it too.”

According to Tamar Khidasheli, the GYLA worked on three cases on the disappearance of ethnic Ossetians. The relatives were looking for them for several months. The situation is the same. Lavrenti Kaziev and Ibragim Laliev were detained for illegal possession of weapon in October of 2008. Vladimer Eloev was detained for illegal crossing of border, possession of weapon and capturing of a policeman in April of 2009.

Later, plea-agreement was signed with them. Fine was imposed only on Ibragim Laliev; the other two pleaded guilty and it was enough for the state; like it happened in Charaeva’s case.

Equal facts happened later too. All three detainees disappeared after they were released from the court room on August 4, 2009.

The GYLA petitioned to the MIA and Ministry of Justice to find those people. The GYLA did not receive replies from any ministry. About one moth later, the young lawyers sent a letter to the European Court; they requested to immediately estimate the location and health conditions of the people.

At the end of September the European Court requested the Georgian side to give information about the missing people.

Representatives of the Ministry of Justice wrote to the European Court that the missing people really were on the Georgia-controlled territory.  However, they were not in the police station but in a remote house where the policemen guarded them.

Tamar Khidasheli said the strange prisoners were released only in December when the Human Rights Commissionaire of the Council of Europe Thomas Hammarberg arrived in Tbilisi. Khidasheli thinks only he managed to reach an agreement with Georgian law enforcement officers.

Kaziev, Laliev and Eloev, who were looked for one and half month, were handed over to the Tskhinvali side like Khatuna Charaeva.

The abovementioned cases expose the tendency that the government of Georgia uses the cases of missing people as a tool to implement their interests – in this particular case for the exchange of hostages. The following facts prove the same which are equal to each other.

1.    The detainees are ethnic Ossetian people originally from the territory which is not controlled by Georgia;
2.    Those people are mostly released after pleading guilty;
3.    After release the former detainees disappear;
4.    The police deport them to the Tskhinvali side.

The article was prepared within the project -  Investigation of the facts of the Enforced Dissepearences in Georgiawith Financial Support of the Eurasian Partnership Foundation within the EU funded project - Strengthening the Media’s Role as a Watchdog Institution in Georgia

The contents of this article report are the sole responsibility of the Human rights Centre and cannot be taken as to reflect the views of the European Union and Eurasian Partnership Foundation.