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The Minister of Energy and the Deputy Prime Minister of Georgia, Kakha Kaladze, commented upon the physical violence which took place close to precinct N53 in the village of Kortskheli on 22 May 2016 during the municipal by-elections. The Deputy Prime Minister accused members of the United National Movement of provoking this incident: "We have concrete information that the United National Movement plans to disrupt elections at a certain precinct and to this aim they have brought in Zaza Kedelashvili’s sonders[1]

led by Giga Bokeria and Levan Bezhashvili. The media is deprived of the possibility to work and some of the provocateurs started to throw stones at the journalists. I would like to ask the representatives of the respective organs to strictly prevent any kind of physical violence."

FactCheck

checked the accuracy of the statement.

On 22 May 2016 individuals, who later were identified as sportsmen and representatives of the Georgian Dream party, gathered at precinct N53 in the village of Kortskheli and physically assaulted members of the United National Movement, including Giga Bokeria, Tengiz Gunava, Akaki Minashvili and Nika Melia. According to the information of the representatives of the opposition, the Government of Georgia mobilised selected individuals in advance in order to create unrest and transported them with this aim from Tbilisi to the Municipality of Zugdidi. Of note is that the group of sportsmen who came to Zugdidi from Tbilisi were observed by TV cameras in the Zugdidi Botanical Garden before the start of the elections. As stated by the sportsmen themselves, they had come to Zugdidi for the purpose of tourism. However, they later moved to the polling station and physically assaulted their opponents.

Of mention is that at the end of his statement, Kakha Kaladze underlined that a new statement would be delivered within a short amount of time with the public getting detailed information (with pictures) about the specific sonders. Indeed, after some time, Mamuka Mdinaradze, a member of the Georgian Dream’s political council and a new face of the party, stated that representatives of Zaza Kedelashvili’s sondercommandos, on the orders of Giga Bokeria, had physically assaulted Georgian Dream member sportsmen who were at the polling station and disrupted the work of the journalists, all of which caused the unrest.

The individuals who were accused by Mamuka Mdinaradze of being sonders denied the allegation and stated that they were in Tbilisi when the incident in Kortskheli was taking place. Later, Mr Mdinaradze changed his initial version and said that there were some other sonders in the Municipality of Zugdidi instead of the individuals he previously named. However, he did not present any factual evidence to prove his statement. The Executive Secretary of the Georgian Dream, Irakli Kobakhidze, also put the blame on Giga Bokeria for provoking the violence. Mr Kobakhidze stated that the mobilisation of the sportsmen in Kortskheli was done for preventive purposes because there was a danger of the opposition intimidating voters. Additionally, Mr Kobakhidze stated that the United National Movement had deployed a 15-man strong sonder squad, armed with baseball bats, near the polling station.

FactCheck addressed the Ministry of Internal Affairs with a letter inquiring about whether or not there was any type of legal response in regard to the accusations made by Kakha Kaladze and other representatives of the ruling party about members of the opposition committing criminal offences. If the information of the Government of Georgia in regard to the aforementioned incident is proven to be true, then this presumably points to the occurrence of a crime which, naturally, should not be left beyond the attention of law enforcement agencies. Of additional interest is why the police did not take any preventive measures to avoid the incident if representatives of the government had information about a forthcoming provocation as confirmed by the statement of Irakli Kobakhidze. FactCheck

attempted multiple times to contact the press service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in order to obtain more precise information but they never responded to our telephone calls.

Representatives of various political parties and non-governmental organisations have condemned the physical incident at the polling station. They are demanding a swift investigation of the incident and believe that an insufficient police force was the reason why preventive measures were not taken. As reported by a representative of Transparency International Georgia, the sportsmen who were gathered at the polling station physically assaulted not only politicians, but citizens and media representatives, including TV Odishi’s camera crew who were hit with bottles and stones.

The Republican Party of Georgia assessed Kakha Kaladze’s statement as cynical and unbelievable. Levan Berdzenishvili called the statements of the Georgian Dream representatives a step taken against the country. The Free Democrats have nearly the same position. Zaza Kedelashvili himself asserts that the allegations about his involvement in the Kortskheli incident are groundless and accuses representatives of the Parliamentary Majority of libel.

The fact that the village of Kortskheli was one of the two places where the United National Movement won the municipal by-elections also needs to be taken into account. Allegations made by representatives of the government that the opposition was trying to disrupt the elections because of a possible defeat do not sound convincing.

Similar events unfolded on 28 January 2016 at the municipal by-elections in the Gardabani district where some unidentified individuals verbally and physically assaulted United National Movement representatives. Irakli Kobakhidze blamed representatives of the opposition for organising the provocations at that time as well.

An investigation about the incident in the village of Kortskheli was launched on the basis of Article 125 of the Criminal Code of Georgia; namely, assault. The sportsmen involved in the incident have voluntarily shown up for testimony. Meanwhile, their supporters organised a protest demonstration in front of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Before that, the Minister of Internal Affairs, Giorgi Mghebrishvili, stated that his Ministry would address the court in the nearest future with the request to arrest the individuals identified in the incident. So far, no one has been brought to justice.

Conclusion

The assessments made by the Deputy Prime Minister, Kakha Kaladze, and other representatives of the ruling party in which they accuse the leaders and other representatives of the United National Movement of committing criminal offences remain without due legal reaction. If the statement of the Deputy Prime Minister were true, then the respective organs should take interest in politicians accused of violence and the so-called sonders named by Mamuka Mdinaradze. According to the latest information, not a single one of the aforementioned individuals mentioned has been summoned for testimony.

The Georgian Dream party asserted that the opposition fuelled the unrest because the Georgian Dream party candidate was winning by a landslide but this is not true. A member of the United National Movement won the elections in the village of Kortskheli. It is also false to blame members of the opposition for hampering the media from carrying out its functions because TV footage and the information of Transparency International Georgia indicate that stones and bottles were thrown at the journalists by the pro-government sportsmen. The opposition believes that Kakha Kaladze should be held responsible as the organiser of the incident.

FactCheck concludes that Kakha Kaladze’s statement is a LIE.

____________________________ [1] Sonders – from SS-Sondercommandos: (here) an organised group which commits acts of violence against political opponents.

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