(TBILISI) - The Georgian Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia arrived at the large-scale rally on Rustaveli Avenue late on May 14 and asked apology from people who were protesting the police raid on Tbilisi clubs.
Interior Minister Asks for Apology from Protesters
By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Tuesday, May 15
Gakharia asked for the apology with the name of the Interior Ministry, in case any law enforcers violated the rights of people during and after the police raid on two nightclubs in Central Tbilisi on May 12.
However, the minister appealed to the protesters, mostly the young generation, to also ask for apology for their incorrect attitude to law enforcers, if they insulted the people who care about the public safety.
The minister asked people to go home and promised the government would work with the leaders and the representatives of the White Noise Movement to produce more liberal drug policy in the country.
The Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili and the interior minister made statements and addressed the protesters after the number of people increased in front of the parliament building in Tbilisi.
The situation became particularly tense when nationalists groups also arrived at the scene to counter the demands of protesters for liberal drug policy.
In his address to protesters in the evening of May 13 Kvirikashvili stated that “I personally guarantee your freedom of expression.”
The PM called on police to increase measures for ensuring the safety of protesters at Rustaveli Avenue.
"Everyone has the freedom to express their own opinion. However, confrontation while expressing opinions is unacceptable and we will not allow this to happen,” he said.
The protesters, who stated that the police exceeded its powers during and after the club raid, also demanded the resignation of Kvirikashvili and Gakharia.
After Gakharia’s arrival at the rally and his address, the rally organizers gave the government one week to start working for changes.
Beka Tsikarishvili, one of the organizers of the protest, a leader of the White Noise Movement, told the media they will watch processes for one week and will hold a large-scale rally on Saturday if the government fails to keep the promise.
"You know that this fight has not started today and we are not going to finish it tomorrow if we do not get the results. Therefore, our protest will always be legitimate,” Tsikarishvili said.
The next day after ending the rally, on May 14, Tsikarishvili and four others from the protesters met with Minister Gakharia and the ministry officials.
After the meeting Gakharia stated that an agreement has been achieved on a “main issue”.
“We have agreed that that drug dealing and drug dealers are our common problem and when the Interior Ministry has a reasonable doubt over alleged illegalities, no one has a right to hinder the actions of the police,” Gakharia said.
The minister stated that the raid in nightclubs on May 12 came after 48 cases of drug intoxication of clubbers over the past two weeks.
“We also have 20 video footages of selling drugs in clubs. We were forced to raid the clubs,” Gakharia stated.
The minister said that two working groups will be created. One group will work on the draft of drug- policy and another on the police raid to find out whether law enforcers exceeded their powers.
“The public defender has not confirmed even one case of exceeding of power by police on May 12. However, we are ready to provide all video materials of the raid and police actions out of the territory of the clubs,” Gakharia stated.
The Georgian Public Defender Nino Lomjaria confirmed the minister’s words over the agreement and the working groups and told the organisers of the rally to appeal to her office over the concrete facts of exceeding of power by police.
“We are ready to study each case. The Interior Ministry promised that that they will provide all necessary materials,” Lomjaria said.
The public defender stated that the police were “legitimate” to raid in the clubs, as they had a relevant permit from the court.
One of the organizers of the rally Beka Tsikarishvili stated after the meeting with Gakharia that they are against drug dealing and reiterated that they demand liberal drug policy for drug consumers.
He stated that the representation of the people supporting liberal drug policy will be larger at the following meeting with the interior ministry staff, to lobby for the draft which will protect drug consumers.
However, Davit Subeliani, another representative of supporters told the media after the meeting that “I do not have a feeling that we will get some significant progress.”
The president reacts to rallies, criticizes Gov’t
The Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili spoke about the “total failure” of political and administrative actions” regarding the Rustaveli Avenue rallies.
"There were a full range of mistakes starting with the police raid. How can we manage to reach this level of civil confrontation in just a few hours? There are questions which need very direct answers,” he said, adding that the major goal is to maintain freedom of expression while on the other hand to keep order in Tbilisi streets and in the socio-political process at the same time.
Margvelashvili thanked the police who were trying to prevent a confrontation between the two opposite groups of protesters and ensuring their safety at Rustaveli Avenue.
President Margvelashvili stated the drug policy should be liberal and fight against drugs trafficking needs to be carried out against traffickers, not users.
Margvelashvili also initiated an anti-drug campaign, which will be carried out by the people who are in every day communication with the young generation and not by state officials.
"We need anti-drugs campaign which is led by people who are close to the clubgoers’ hearts - representatives of the club scene, Djs, influential clubbers," the president said.
What does the opposition say?
The parliamentary opposition representatives state that the Georgian Dream government fails to effectively fight with drug crimes and tries to “overshadow” the disability through the carried out “noisy raids and shows.”
“We need the government which on the one hand protects the young generation from drugs and on the other hand, from the violent actions of the police,” a member of the European Georgia opposition Davit Bakradze said.
He stated that the government must seize drugs until they reach the clubs.
The United National Movement opposition party believes that the rallies should not have been stopped, as now the government will not fulfill its promises.
Police raided two nightclubs in Central Tbilisi at 1pm on May 12. The clubs are Bassiani and Cafe Gallery. During and before the raid police detained 8 alleged drug dealers. One from the detainees was a club guard, as the ministry announced.
The detainees have been charged for possession and sale of drugs in especially large quantities, envisaging 8-20 years in prison.
The same day, On May 12, large-scale rallies kicked off in front of the parliament building in Tbilisi with the slogan “For Our Freedom,” protesting the raid in nightclubs, accusing the police of exceeding of powers and demanding the change of the state drug policy. They also demanded the resignation of the prime minister and the interior minister.
Nationalists groups organized a contra-rally on Rustaveli Avenue on May 13, which make the situation tense.
Late on May 13, the Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili addressed the protesters and called on police to increase measures for ensuring the safety of protesters at Rustaveli Avenue.
The same night Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia arrived at the rally and apologized for any law enforcer who created a safety threat for anyone during and after the raid. However, he called on the protesters to also ask pardon to police employees if they also acted in a wrong way. The minister stated that the ministry will work with the protesters over the new drug policy and announced the meeting the next day.
Protesters stated that they will renew rallies if the government fails to keep its promise and take no genuine steps for decriminalization of drug consumption.
The ruling party members, part of the opposition and experts stated that minister Gakharia took the right step and managed to de-escalate the situation, while another part says that the government will not change its attitude to drug policy.
The Georgian Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze stated that a draft on drug policy will be prepared in the course of the following two weeks.