Georgia: Police storm opposition headquarters to arrest leader Nika Melia

Georgian police this morning stormed the headquarters of the opposition United National Movement (UNM) party in Tbilisi, and arrested the party’s leader Nika Melia and dozens of others. Police reportedly using batons and chemical irritants against UNM supporters who allegedly tried to block police entry into the building. Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Denis Krivosheev said:

“Nika Melia and at least 20 others were arrested in chaotic scenes early this morning with police reportedly using tear gas or pepper spray in their efforts to detain him. Last week an appeal was lodged against a court decision to subject Melia to pre-trial detention for his alleged incitement of violence during 2019 anti-government protests. Arresting him, let alone violently, before the appeal has been considered shows the Georgian authorities’ flagrant disregard for the rule of law and authority and integrity of the judiciary, and suggests the arrest is politically motivated.

Arresting him, let alone violently, before the appeal has been considered shows the Georgian authorities’ flagrant disregard for the rule of law and authority and integrity of the judiciary, and suggests the arrest is politically motivated
Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Denis Krivosheev

“Today’s raid comes against the backdrop of the use of excessive force and indiscriminate tactics against demonstrators – most of them peaceful – by police in 2019. The Georgian authorities’ attempts to prosecute political opponents for their role in the 2019 protests appear politically motivated and smack of repression of opposition and critics. The authorities must fully and effectively respect, protect, promote and fulfil the human rights of everyone.”

Today’s raid comes against the backdrop of the use of excessive force and indiscriminate tactics against demonstrators – most of them peaceful – by police in 2019
Denis Krivosheev

Background

In June 2019, anti-government and anti-Russian protests erupted in Tbilisi, after a visiting Russian MP occupied the Georgian parliamentary speaker’s seat while chairing the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy. Police used excessive  and indiscriminate force on 20 June to disperse an anti-government demonstration of thousands in Tbilisi, including firing rubber bullets and tear gas. Around 240 people were injured, some seriously. More than 100 participants were detained on charges of confronting police and obstructing public order; most of them were released after having spent up to 15 days in administrative detention. Further protests took place at the end of the year, with police using water cannons in cold temperatures and other indiscriminate force.

Authorities launched a criminal investigation into the events, prosecuting 17 protesters including one opposition member of parliament, on charges of participating in or organizing group violence. They also prosecuted four police officers on charges related to disproportionate use of force. Nika Melia, who was at the site of the protests, was charged with incitement of violence. Some available video evidence shows him calling people to enter the parliament building “peacefully and with holding their hands up.” However violent clashes ensued after police prevented protesters from entering the parliament building.

Former Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia resigned last week over the 17 February court ruling to arrest Melia. He said arresting the opposition leader could lead to further escalation of the political crisis, and threaten the well-being of the people.