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International community concerned over the arrest of opposition leader Melia, protests break out

By Veronika Malinboym
Wednesday, February 24
On February 23, at 8.50 the chairman of the opposition United National Movement party Nika Melia was arrested during the special ops storming of the party’s headquarters. Melia’s supporters resisted the SWAT’s entering the building, who then broke in through windows. During the operation, which lasted for about half an hour, tear gas was released in the building, and the party’s property was severely damaged.

Newly appointed PM Irakli Gharibashvili responded to Melia’s arrest by saying that the government and law enforcement’s actions were completely “in line with the democratic standards” and applauded the police efforts, adding that he is proud of them. He noted that Melia has been found guilty in the Cartu case and in the case of inciting violence during the 2019 protests as he was “encouraging people to break into the parliament building,” which is why he was arrested earlier today.

Speaker of the Parliament and member of the ruling Georgian Dream party Archil Talakvadze stated that Melia “purposely acted provocatively” in order to “further escalate the situation in the country”. Similarly, Tbilisi Mazor Kakha Kaladze praised the police, adding “unfortunately, people in Georgia still disregard the Law.”

Transparency International as well as the Ombudswoman of Georgia Nino Lomjaria, condemned Melia’s arrest. Lomjaria stated that today’s ‘shameful’ arrest would “lead to Georgia’s alienation from the West.”

Various members of the international community voiced similar concerns over the ongoing crisis. The US Embassy to Georgia released a statement in which it described today’s events as “Georgia moving backward on its path to democracy.”

“The United States Embassy is deeply concerned by the government’s decision to detain the head of a major opposition political party at the party’s headquarters this morning. We regret that the call of the United States and other international partners for restraint and dialogue was ignored. We are dismayed by the polarizing rhetoric from Georgia’s leadership at a time of crisis. Force and aggression are not the solutions to resolving Georgia’s political differences. Today, Georgia has moved backward on its path toward becoming a stronger democracy in the Euro-Atlantic family of nations”, the Embassy stated.

US President Joe Biden’s foreign policy adviser Michael Carpenter said that “very sad events are unfolding in Georgia” and expressed his hope for more “level-headed leaders” to win and ensure the consequent de-escalation.

US Congressman Adam Kinzinger called for the government to refrain from dramatic actions. Zigimantas Pavilionis, Lithuanian MP who has recently visited Georgia in order to express his support for the country’s opposition bloc tweeted:

“Wake up. Ring the bells and take action. Democracy is in danger! (The Georgian authorities) use gas and violence, just like Putin does. Ivanishvili’s regime has to pay for what it has done!”

Carl Hartzel, EU Ambassador to Georgia, called for all sides to “demonstrate responsibility and have the best interest of the country and the Georgian people at heart,” and continue the efforts to find a common ground.

Nika Melia was charged with incitement of violence during June 2019 protests and was released on bail in June 2020. Melia violated the conditions of the bail by publically removing the surveillance bracelet and later refusing to pay the GEL40,000 bail. He was consequently stripped of his MP immunity by the Georgian Parliament and, on February 17, Tbilisi City Court ruled in favor of his arrests. The day after the court sentencing was announced, former PM Gakharia resigned amidst the inability to come to an agreement regarding Melia’s arrest with the other members of the ruling Georgian Dream Party.