Georgia: Heavy-handed police response calls for urgent investigation

Amnesty International is calling for an immediate, thorough and independent investigation into use of force by riot police in Georgia, after protestors in Tbilisi were hit with rubber bullets and tear gas. Levan Asatiani, Senior Campaigner for South Caucasus, was on the ground in Tbilisi and said:

“Eyewitnesses described watching in disbelief as police fired rubber bullets indiscriminately into the crowd. Reports of erratic firing are confirmed by video footage. Rubber bullets can cause serious injuries and should never be used indiscriminately to disperse crowds. Police have the duty to protect public order and respond to violence, but their response must be necessary and proportionate. The disturbing scenes in Tbilisi this morning show a total failure to distinguish between the few violent protestors and the peaceful majority.

The heavy-handed police approach has resulted in scores of injuries, including at least 31 journalists
Levan Asatiani, Senior Campaigner for South Caucasus

“The heavy-handed police approach has resulted in scores of injuries, including at least 31 journalists. Most of them were hurt by rubber bullets, despite being identifiable as journalists as they tried to report on the protests. We are calling for a prompt, thorough and independent investigation into these events. With further protests likely, it’s essential that police are instructed to exercise restraint and respect the right to peaceful freedom of expression.”

Background

Protests with anti-Russian slogans erupted in the Georgian capital Tbilisi after a Russian MP, Sergey Gavrilov, took the speaker’s seat in Georgia’s Parliament as part of a regional inter-parliamentary event.  The session was suspended but some protesters attempted to forcibly enter the parliament, demanding the resignations of senior government figures.

In 2008, Georgia and Russia were at war over the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia/Tskhinvali Region, where Russia retains a military presence after unilaterally recognizing it as an independent state. The conflict and its aftermath resulted in numerous human rights violations, including the forced displacement of thousands of people, primarily ethnic Georgians, and continue to adversely impact the rights of local communities.