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Investigate abuses, Human Rights Watch tells Ministers

By Etuna Tsotniashvili
Wednesday, May 13
In a letter sent by Human Rights Watch to Minister of the Interior Vano Merabishvili and Minister of Justice Zurab Adeishvili on 7 May the organisation called on the officials to take immediate steps to investigate all allegations of multiple attacks against peaceful demonstrators in Tbilisi and punish their perpetrators according to the law, highlighting that “accountability for these assaults is essential to demonstrate the Government's commitment to justice.”

The letter says that in the majority of assault cases the law enforcement agencies have questioned victims but taken no further action. HRW claims that some of the victims of assaults even reported the number plates of the vehicles their attackers used but the police have not arrested anyone. HRW urges the Ministers to investigate all these cases, emphasizing that such investigations should be conclusive, public, involve the victims and lead to the identification and prosecution of the perpetrators.

In her letter Holly Carter, Director of HRW’s Europe and Central Asia Division, writes that HRW has interviewed nine victims attacked in seven different incidents, and found that in at least two cases “patrol police appeared to be in the vicinity of the attack, and in a position to intervene, but did not do so.”

HRW reports that at around 10.30 p.m. on April 9, the first day of the protest rallies, Natia Archvadze, Lasha Kopaliani and two other men were returning home from the protest site on Rustaveli Avenue. The four are students and members of the youth movement “Ratom?” [Why?]. They reported that 15 masked men armed with rubber truncheons attacked them.

“Three cars caught up with us near Baratashvili Bridge, two Range Rover jeeps and a silver Fiat. None of the cars had license plates on them. They blocked our way from the back and side. About 15 men with masks came out and ... started beating us. When Lasha got out of the car, they hit him with a truncheon and he fell down. They continued to assault him, beating him in the head and chest. One of the others was hit on the head before he got out of the car and lost consciousness. I tried to get out of the car to help, but they pushed the car door in and would not let me get out. They cursed me and ordered me to stay in the car,” 19-year-old student Natia Archvadze recalls. Archvadze told HRW that one of the men was hospitalized with concussion and questioned by a police investigator but in the month since the key witness has not been questioned.

Late on May 11 HRW followed up its letter by releasing another report in which it appealed to the Georgian Government not to abandon its obligation to protect human rights in its negotiations with the opposition. This was a response to one of the five proposals offered by President Saakashvili at his meeting with opposition leaders that afternoon, the imposition of a “moratorium on the investigation of all offences which occurred during the protest actions as a result of excessive political emotions.” As Giorgi Gogia, South Caucasus researcher at Human Rights Watch stated, "There can't be a trade-off on justice.”

“The Government can choose not to prosecute demonstrators if they've committed offences. But it cannot choose to abandon its human rights obligations. There have been allegations of serious human rights violations in connection with the protests, and the Government has to investigate them,” Gogia said.