(Tbilisi, Civil Georgia, July 10, 2002) Upto ten men broke into the offices of the human rights and advocacy NGO Liberty Institute and have severely beaten six NGO members, including Levan Ramishvili and David Zurabishvili, leading activists of the Liberty Institute. Attackers also destroyed the equipment and documentation of the Institute.
Liberty Institute is known for its activism in defending human rights of the minorities, which frequently stirred angry reaction of the religious fundamentalists and political extremists. During ongoing week supporters of the maverick ultranationalist MP Guram Sharadze launched the protests against the Liberty Institute demanding ‘punishment’ of its leaders and specifically, Levan Ramishvili.
Protests were launched after Ramishvili hinted in televised talk show that Sharadze may have been connected with Soviet special services. Sharadze accused the Liberty Institute and other NGOs in undermining Georgian church, state and traditions and publicly blamed them for ‘taking orders from the West.’
The identity of the attackers is unclear. The Liberty Institute made no public announcements as of yet. Police and prosecutor’s office have launched investigation. President Eduard Shevardnadze commented on the act of violence stating that it is ‘to be condemned.’ “Such things do not happen in a normal country,” he added.
Protest reaction is expected from Georgia’s civil society organizations which came under heavy pressure from the government and extremist groups recently. A violent event comes as embarrasement to Georgia’s government which has been plagued by the repeated acts of crime and violence during last month, including kidnapping of the British businessman Peter Shaw and disappearance of the German businessman couple of days ago.