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Nine opposition activists detained

By Mzia Kupunia
Tuesday, March 24
Former Parliament Speaker and leader of the opposition Democratic Movement-United Georgia, Nino Burjanadze, has accused the Georgian Government of persecuting people for their political views. This statement of the former ally of President Saakashvili was made on Monday hours after the arrest of Zurab Avaliani, an activist of Burjanadze’s party, and eight others. Avaliani, who is Chairman of the party’s regional headquarters in Batumi, was arrested early on Monday at his home, allegedly for the illegal possession of firearms. Party activists say that police officers planted the guns in Avaliani’s house.

At a special press conference on March 23 Burjanadze said the Government is trying to use “dirty methods” against the opposition parties because it has realized that on April 9 the Georgian people will force it to resign and order snap elections. “We have been accused of everything, possible. We have heard unjustified accusations that members of my party and my family are collecting weapons. Today the Government has also begun an obvious terror campaign against the supporters of our party via media outlets controlled by Government members,” Burjanadze stated. The former Parliament Speaker said that seven party members and supporters had been arrested in Tbilisi and Batumi [according to her information at that stage]. She said Mamuka Shengelia, her husband’s driver, was also among the detainees. Burjanaze is married to former head of the Border Police Badri Bitsadze

Speaking at the office of Democratic Movement-United Georgia, Burjanadze also said that her hisband had been subject to pressure from the Government. Bitsadze said he had been informed that President Saakashvili is demanding his arrest. Bitsadze told journalists that he had received a call on Monday from a person who said he was speaking on behalf of Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili. “Merabishvili told me through his intermediary that the President is demanding that he arrest me. Merabishvili suggested that I leave Georgia for a month, but I am not going anywhere,” Bitsadze noted.

The Public Defender’s Office has released a special statement about the detention of the opposition activists. It says that Deputy Public Defender Giorgi Chkheidze had visited Roin Bughashvili and Giorgi Bolashvili, who are detained in the Module Building (of the Interior Ministry of Georgia). Chkheidze said that Bughashvili had sustained some injuries, which he claimed had been inflicted during his detention. The Deputy Ombudsman expressed his concern that the Public Defender’s Office is unable to discover where the other detainees are. Chkheidze has demanded that the Interior Ministry reveals where they are being kept.

Late on Monday the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia released several videotapes, allegedly showing Democratic Movement-United Georgia members Giorgi Bolashvili, Vakhtang Narsia and Mamuka Shengelia buying weapons. Spokesman for the Interior Ministry Shota Utiashvili said the MIA had detained several members of certain groups which had earlier “shown an interest in buying weapons.” Utiashvili said the Interior Ministry has some more materials which will “prove that the detained people were involved in criminal activities.” Utiashvili said the materials will be presented to the public later.

The Georgian opposition has responded to the detentions. Former Prime Minister and the leader of the Movement for Fair Georgia Zurab Noghaideli said on Monday that the Government is trying to scare people. He called on state officials to stop persecuting people for their political views. Eka Beselia from the Movement for United Georgia has also called on the Government to “stop these repressions.” “Through these actions the Government will encourage a bigger wave [of protest]. This power is dangerous for them and for the country,” she said. Zviad Dzidziguri from the Conservative Party also warned about the possible protest impetus the detention of the opposition activists might create. “[Due to the actions of the Government] the protest rallies might start before April 9,” Dzidziguri said.

On March 23 the opposition parties signed a statement in support of the Democratic Movement-United Georgia, condemning the arrest of its activists. “We state with certainty that this is an open provocation and an attempt to scare society… We warn the Government to release these young political prisoners. We once more state our will to change this Government by constitutional and peaceful means and with the support of society,” the statement reads.

Burjanadze also mentioned further threats from Government officials at the press conference. “I will not be surprised if one day the law enforcers find narcotics in my pocket,” she noted. She said she has already informed foreign diplomats in Tbilisi about the case. Burjanadze told journalists that if law enforcers decide to search her office, she would like this to happen in the presence of foreign diplomats.