Protests Lose Focus after Competing Solidarity Rallies

Protests in solidarity to Zaza Saralidze, father of one of the teenagers murdered in December 2017, seemed to have lost focus and momentum after two competing solidarity rallies were held in Tbilisi.

The rally on Rustaveli avenue was announced as a continuation of protests that were launched on 31 May. The announcement came following Zaza Saralidze’s appeal to the political parties to join his protest and help him “dismantle the system.”

The alternative rally was initiated by a group of young people at the centrally located Vake park. The organizers and participants, among them some former members of the Georgian Dream party, said they wanted to express solidarity with Zaza Saralidze personally, while at the same time distancing themselves from the rally on Rustaveli avenue, which they described as led by the opposition United National Movement. The organizers also called for establishing of a public commission for scrutinizing the teen murder case.

In a related development, also on June 3, the ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia convened a political council meeting on the matter. PM Kvirikashvili said after the meeting, that the party decided to schedule a special parliamentary sitting in the upcoming week for setting up an investigative commission for the teen murder case. The Prime Minister also announced that the Justice Ministry would launch consultations on selecting the new Chief Prosecutor on June 4, and that the process would be “as inclusive as possible.”

The timeline of events of Sunday, 3 June follows:

  • Zaza Saralidze appeared at Vake park around midday. He left soon, after being harangued repeatedly to not join the rally on Rustaveli avenue. Public Defender Nino Lomjaria, who escorted Saralidze out of the area, was verbally abused by one of the participants, who allegedly thought the Public Defender was taking Saralidze to Rustaveli avenue.
  • The rally on Rustaveli avenue commenced at 6 pm. Several parties, including the opposition platform led by the United National Movement, the Democratic Movement and the Labor Party, have joined, but refrained from addressing the participants until late night, when Saralidze also joined the protesters.
  • Saralidze appeared at 10 pm, an hour after New Georgia party’s Giorgi Vashadze reported that they were unable to locate him, and called on the Public Defender, who they thought was aware of Saralidze’s whereabouts, to inform them on the matter. Public Defender responded with a press briefing, saying Saralidze was safe, but “very exhausted and emotionally drained.” Lomjaria, however, did not specify his location.
  • Saralidze stated that he was staying home for the whole time. Addressing the protesters, he reiterated his calls for holding perpetrators accountable, as well as those who allegedly covered up the crime. “The system must be dismantled,” Saralidze repeated.
  • Later, Saralidze said he would meet Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili on June 4. Giorgi Vashadze of the New Georgia party added that the meeting would be held together with political party representatives. PM Kvirikashvili’s press office, however, stressed the Prime Minister was ready to meet parents of both teen murder victims, but “without participation of politically-driven individuals.”
  • The demonstration on Rustaveli avenue ended at 22:30, with organizers announcing that solidarity rallies would continue throughout the week there, as well as across the country. A large-scale demonstration will be held on June 10.

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