Police Arrests Protesters on Rustaveli Avenue

Police officers have detained several participants of a protest rally outside the old Parliament building in Tbilisi, held in solidarity with Zaza Saralidze, father of one of the teenagers murdered last December.

Several persons were arrested as a result of the incident, including MP Nika Melia of the United National Movement, and Irakli Nadiradze, member of the Tbilisi City Council from UNM.

Deputy Interior Minister Kakhaber Sabanadze, who was present on Rustaveli Avenue during the incident, said the protesters violated public order, and were detained under the country’s administrative offences code.

Mamuka Chelidze of the Interior Ministry said later that the detainees, including MP Melia, were arrested for disobeying police orders. Chelidze also reported that Melia was not being held in detention, while Nadiradze was.

Another, unrelated incident occurred as the police has first moved the protesters’ tents off the Rustaveli avenue to open it for car traffic and then have dismantled them completely.

Heavy police presence is reported on Rustaveli avenue. Protesters plan to resume the rally at 6 pm today.

Public Defender Nino Lomjaria has reacted to the incidents, saying dismantling of the tents on the sidewalk seems to have represented a “disproportional interference in exercising the right of free expression.” She has also called upon the police to clarify the reasons behind each specific case of detention and called on eyewitnesses to report potential violations to the Public Defender’s office.

Minority Leader David Bakradze (European Georgia) has called upon the Parliament Speaker to condemn the detention of MP Melia and secure his immediate release. Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze, who held a meeting with Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia shortly after the incident, said MP Melia was merely “detached” from the area to prevent him from committing “further offenses.”

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