Georgian town of Marneuli protesting – what the interrogation of Georgia’s Muslim leader has to do with it
It was the recent protest in the town of Marneuli – one where local farmers had demanded for the quarantine to be cancelled and for them to be allowed to sell their agricultural produce at markets – that seemed to interest the agents of the Georgian state security service when they were interrogating head of the Administration of All Muslims of Georgia Mirtagy Asadov on April 17.
On April 16, reports came through that a criminal case had been opened against Asadov on ‘sabotage’ charges. No explanations were offered, however Asadov assumes it may have something to do with the interview he had given to the opposition TV channel Mtavari Arkhi.
During the interview, as he commented on Georgia PM Giorgi Gakharia’s statement that churches would not be closed on Easter, Asadov asked, rhetorically:
“What would happen if we opened our mosques for Ramadan? Would they treat us with the same understanding as they do the Church?”
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The questioning lasted for four hours. Later, he told journalists the investigators had asked him why he had liked the Facebook post calling on Marneli people to protest and why he had decided to share it.
“The post contained this call: stay at home and honk your horn. It didn’t violate any laws, did it?” Mirtagy Asadov said.
Two districts in Georgia’s Kvemo-Kartli region – Marneuli and Bolnisi – have been under lockdown due the risk of epidemic spread since March 25. 22 people have since got infected in Bolnisi, and the local emergency department was closed down on April 17, after seven of its doctors and their family members had been confirmed sick.
As of April 18, Georgia has 370 infection cases, including three deaths and 76 recoveries.
The whole country has been living in a state of emergency since March 21. But being locked down in one’s own home has turned out particularly difficult for the locals, Asadov said.
“They’ve been calling us every day, asking for help. But the government hasn’t done anything to help them,” Asadov said. “This is what the Facebook post was about – its aim was to attract the attention of the authorities and let them him hear the voice of the people”.
He said that he had taken to Facebook to ask the authorities for help even before the protest.
“I think they want to scare me and take away my right to speak”, Mirtagy Asadov.
What happened in Marneuli?
The “Honk and protest” action was held in Marneuli on April 14 and 15. It had been scheduled to start at 21:00, when the curfew, in place in Georgia since March 31, usually begins.
Residents of Marneuli said that they had found themselves in a particularly difficult situation due to the lockdown and demanded for it to be cancelled.
Marneuli and surrounding villages are an agricultural region. It is home to a large Azerbaijani community. Agriculture is the main source of sustenance for many of the locals.
And although they were allowed to continue working in their fields and on their farms while complying with the social distancing rules, this hasn’t solved the problem. The main market for their products is Tbilisi and other big cities. Being unable to take their products to the markets, the local population has been left without a livelihood.
Besides Mirtagy Asadov, three other local Muslim leaders were summoned for the interrogation.
All of them said that they hadn’t had a hand in organizing the protest.
Asadov’s lawyer, Keti Chutlashvili, said that there were no signs of a criminal offense in this case. In her opinion, it may have something to do with the activities of the Muslim leaders.
The interrogation caused a maelstrom on social media.
“Has the state security service ever interrogated [Orthodox] priests?” FB users asked. “Does the government go against its claims that they are secular authorities?”