Statement of Non-Governmental Organizations on the Incident in Batumi
We, the undersigned organizations, condemn the acts of violence and vandalism that occurred on 11-12 March in the city of Batumi. Whatever may have caused this incident, we call upon the government to conduct the investigation in a timely, thorough and independent manner.
On March 11, a number of citizens closed off a central street as a sign of protest. The reason was a fine issued to a citizen by a police officer. The protesters noted that the police issues fines without basis, which affects their economic well-being.  The citizens also accuse the chief of the police department of making derogatory statements, however these accusations have yet to be confirmed.  Representatives from a number of opposition political parties joined the protesters.
During the protest, confrontation between the protesters and the police grew as the latter tried to open up the street and detained several individuals as a result.  After this, a number of protesters tried to break into the Adjara police department.  At night, the protest turned violent: the protesters did not obey the requests of the law enforcement to disband and began to conduct acts of vandalism. The protesters damaged and burnt down cars , moreover, trees and buildings were caught on fire. A number of protesters and police officers were injured during the confrontation.
A number of law enforcement representatives were present on the scene when the situation turned violent. Regardless of this, the police did not take active measures to restore order and acted in a largely defensive manner.
Irakli Chkvirkvia, supporter of the United National Movement and member of the Free Zone, along with a number of aggressively disposed young individuals, put forth an ultimatum to the government. Chkvirkvia demanded the resignation of the chief of Adjara police within hour and a half, a meeting with the Minister of Internal Affairs (who had already arrived to Batumi) and an immunity from prosecution for the young individuals.
Upon the arrival of the special forces, the majority of the protesters disbanded and left the territory. After this, no confrontation took place between the police and the protesters. The conduct of the police did not leave the impression of a disproportionate use of force. The police detained a number of protesters and transferred them to different police departments.
According to circulated information, a lawyer from the public defender’s Adjara-Guri office met with the individuals who had been placed in pre-trial detention over yesterday’s events. According to the lawyer, the detainees deny that the police had physically assaulted them or used discriminatory, derogatory or religious/ethic slurs towards them.
It is noteworthy that a protest calling for the resignation of Kakha Bukhrazde, the chief of Adjara police, was held on March 4 by Merab Ghoghoberidze, the head of the non-governmental organization “Centre for Fighting Corruption”, and four other like-minded individuals. Merab Ghoghoberidze declared at the protest that Kakha Bukhradze had replaced the staff within the police department with individuals connected to him. The participants of the small protest held signs with the text “Adjarians are not Tatars” and stated that the new chief of the police acted in a discriminatory manner with the local population and called upon his own staff to do the same. One of the participants of the protests, a driver, stated he had been fined twice without a due basis by the police. Ghoghoberidze is known for his aggressive acts towards the members of the constitutional court of Georgia and representatives of oppositional parties.
The Constitution of Georgia ensures the right of peaceful manifestation. However, when the behavior of the protesters is no longer peaceful, the protest is beyond the boundaries of the right of manifestation and the police has the duty to restore public order and suppressing violent acts through the proportionate use of force. Factual evidence from yesterday’s event shows that at a certain point a number of protesters lost their right of manifestation through their violent and illegal behavior. Moreover, at the end of the day, a number of organized groups started to vandalize property and deliberately escalated the situation. Derogatory statements on ethnic, religious and regional affiliation were publically voiced by the protesters. The government should look into the motives and political affiliations of the organized groups, in an effort to ensure public order and due reflection on the political and social factors of the incident.
Apart from investigating the violent acts of the organized groups, it is important for the government to look into the real source of discontent of the Batumi population and react to them in a systematic manner.
Moreover, it is to be noted that the Ministry of Internal Affairs does not have an effective strategy for ensuring safety during manifestations and as a result the violent and illegal actions of specific organized groups became widespread during the protest. However, it should be noted positively that the circulated information on the disproportionate use of force by the police has not been confirmed.
In an effort to secure a swift, effective and thorough investigation and avoid any repetition of such incidents, we recommend the following:
- The reaction time and lawfulness of the government in response to yesterday’s incident should be swiftly and independently assessed and any identified issues should be resolved based on the findings;
- The source of the public discontent should be thoroughly researched. In spite of the nature of the protests, it is still important for the government to determine whether the policy for issuing fines is unfair and if the police had made any derogatory statements. If any of these are confirmed as true, the government should take all appropriate legal measures;
- Moreover, the government should look into the possibility that yesterday’s events were orchestrated and not simply spontaneous.
Law enforcement agencies:
- The incident should be timely and thoroughly investigated, all measures determined by law should be carried out and all respective persons should be held accountable;
- It is important for the rights of the detained persons to be protected and the final decision in their cases be made through an independent court.
- Political parties should act responsibly with their actions and should abstain from inciting direct and indirect confrontation. We consider that any statement, which may even indirectly be justifying violence, can increase the risk of violent confrontations;
- Political parties should abstain from xenophobic, ethnic and religious intolerance and statements based on incitement of hatred;
Citizens of Georgia
- It is important to note that citizens have the obligation to follow and respect the law. If the results of enforcing the laws are considered unfair, citizens should first and foremost seek legal mechanisms and not venture beyond the legal framework. Otherwise the interests of the citizens, state and public are damaged.
Georgian Young Lawyers' Association
Transparency International Georgia
International Society for Fair Elections And Democracy
Human Rights Center
Civil Development Agency