The arrest of Nika Melia and international response

Police and riot police entered the UNM office and arrested Nika Melia on the morning of February 23. When entering the office of Nika Melia, Police also allegedly used the so-called Pepper “spray”. “This is the end of the regime” –  Nika Melia said shortly before his arrest. Also he called the founder of the Georgian Dream Bidzina Ivanishvili and Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili “traitors”. He also stressed that “no citizen of Georgia should be arrested for Gavrilov.” The chairman of the Georgian Dream, Irakli Kobakhidze, thanked the Minister of Internal Affairs, Vakhtang Gomelauri, for conducting a “rather difficult operation”. Khatia Dekanoidze, one of the leaders of the UNM, said that “Nika Melia was detained by the Gavrilovs and Rodionovs.” Police arrested 21 people during the operation. Computer servers were reportedly taken from the party office.

On the same day, a protest rally was organized by the opposition in front of the State Chancellery. The protesters then moved to the parliament, blocked Rustaveli Avenue and set up tents in front of the Parliament. Opposition demanded the immediate release of Nika Melia. They expressed their readiness for dialogue only if Nika Melia spoke on their behalf during the negotiations. On February 23, representatives of the opposition met with the EU Ambassador to discuss ways out of the country’s crisis.

The Public Defender and local NGOs commented on the arrest of Nika Melia, the chairman of the United National Movement. According to The Public Defender – Nino Lomjaria: “It’s nothing more shameful on the 100th years anniversary of Soviet Occupation than the raid on the office of an opposition party and the arrest of an opposition leader”. A joint statement by 26 NGOs states that the government’s decision will further aggravate the political crisis in the country. The statement also mentioned that it is regrettable that “the authorities did not wait for Melia’s appeal to be heard in the Court of appeals and did not show the willingness to ease the difficult situation and conduct the political process in a peaceful environment.”

The arrest of the UNM chairman was followed by an unprecedented international response. The assessment of the US Embassy in Georgia was the most acute: “We are shocked by the rhetoric used by the Georgian leadership during the crisis. Violent methods and aggression are not the way to resolve Georgia’s political differences. ” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said that “violence is not the way to resolve political differences.” Žygimantas Pavilionis, chair of the Lithuanian parliament’s foreign affairs committee said that  “Gas and violence were used as Putin once did. Ivanishvili’s regime must answer for this!”. He  called Melia’s arrest an “attack” on democracy. Leaders of the US Helsinki Commission, Congressman Alcee Hastings and Joe Wilson, as well as Senators Roger Walker and Ben Cardin made a joint statement. It said that the attack on the UNM office and the “arbitrary arrest” of Nika Melia were not conducive to democratic progress. The assessment of the co-chair of the Group of Friends of Georgia, Congressman Adam Kinzinger, was also quite harsh. He noted  that the pro-Georgia act is not automatic and called on the government to stop dramatic actions. On 23 February, six MEPs addressed the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, who plans to visit Georgia. Their address referred to the current political situation in Georgia, which has been “rapidly deteriorating” lately.

On February 25, the EU issued a statement mentioning the threat of further political polarization due to the arrest of Nika Melia. It also said that this process “poses a threat to Georgia’s democracy.” The statement emphasized on the issues of   fairness and lack of independence of the judiciary. The EU calls on the Georgian opposition to “play a constructive role, including entering parliament, to further strengthen democracy and the rule of law in Georgia and to support the formation of a reformist future in the country.”

On February 25, the Prosecutor’s Office announced that they are ready to request to release Melia if he pays the bail. Soon Nika Melia’s lawyer replied to the prosecutor’s office that he was not going to pay the bail. Public Defender Nino Lomjaria commented on the statement of the Prosecutor’s Office: “The statement of the Prosecutor’s Office is proof of the unboundedness of his detention.”

The Tbilisi Court of Appeals did not uphold the complaint of Nika Melia’s lawyers against the reversal of the City Court decision. The court also denied the motion, according to which lawyers could appeal the decision to a higher court

Government changes

The Parliament of Georgia expressed confidence in Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili and his government on February 22. As a result of the government changes, Juansher Burchuladze, a former Deputy Minister, has taken over the post of Minister of Defense; Irakli Karseladze, a former Deputy Minister, has been appointed as a Minister of Regional Development and Infrastructure . Mr. Gharibashvili has appointed Minister of foreign affairs Davit Zalkaliani and Minister of Finance Ivane Machavariani as Vice Prime Ministers. Kakhaber Kemoklidze resigned from the post of the head of the government administration after 20 days of work. He was appointed to this position by a former PM – Giorgi Gakharia.

The new composition of the government was evaluated by the representatives of the opposition. According to UNM member Tina Bokuchava, Gharibashvili’s appointment will complicate the situation. “[This appointment] indicates that Ivanishvili does not want to choose a peaceful path, he does not want to choose a path of negotiations.” According to Gigi Ugulava, appointment of Gharibashvili led to “the neighbourhood-loving government of Kartu Bank and Bidzina Ivanishvili has been completely formed.”

The case of Vakho Sanaia

On February 25, Vakho Sanaia, the presenter of “Formula News” main news program, and  a relative of his wife, were attacked by several people. According to Vakho Sanaia, he has received injuries to his head and legs. The Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia has charged three people accused of violence against Vakho Sanaia, the host of the “Formula”, with three articles. The investigative agency charges the detainees with violence, persecution and threats. If convicted on all three charges, they face up to three years in prison. Government, NGOs and Opposition Parties Condemn Attack on Journalist

The attack on Vakho Sanaia was condemned by members of the ruling party, NGOs and opposition parties. Some members of the opposition claimed that the attack on Vakho Sanaia is “a result of Impunity Syndrome”

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EGI Political Digest was created with support from Swedish International Liberal Centre (SILC). The views and opinions expressed in this Digest are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of EGI or SILC.

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