Georgian citizen dies in South Ossetian police custody, Tbilisi demands international investigation
Georgian citizen Archil Tatunashvili passed away in a Tskhinval hospital late at night on 22 February. He had been detained by South Ossetian law enforcement officers from the Leningori-Akhalgori district.
According to a message from the Committee for State Security (KGB) of South Ossetia, he was suspected of participating in the 2008 war on the Georgian side and of committing ‘genocide against Ossetians’. The department claims that once he was detained, he refused to answer questions and when he was being transferred to a cell he tried to take the security guard’s weapon.
“This attempt was thwarted by those escorting him, but they had to apply physical force. Having lost his balance, Tatunashvili tripped over some stairs, fell and got injured. He was sent to the hospital,” the South Ossetian Committee for State Security said.
Ossetian officials say that Tatunashvili received the necessary medical care while in hospital. However, he died shortly after.
As it responded to the case, the State Security Service of Georgia said it had asked the de-facto authorities of Tskhinvali and the Russian occupation forces to provide them with all the details surrounding the arrest and death of Tatunashvili.
The State Security Service said international organisations and the co-chairmen of the Geneva discussions ought to react to the event immediately. Also, it said it was of paramount importance that Georgian experts be allowed onto the scene to examine the body.
The State Minister for Reconciliation and Civil Equality, Ketevan Tsikhelashvili, said that the ‘Russian Federation and the occupation regime’ was responsible for the incident. She stated that the arrest of Tatunashvili was illegal and that he had died under ‘questionable circumstances’.
“Unfortunately, yet another person has become the victim of the occupation regime,” Tsikhelashvili said while expressing condolences to his family.
The minister said that members of the observation mission of the European Union and the co-chairs of the Geneva discussions have been informed.
Citing its own sources, Radio Liberty reported that Archil Tatunashvili lived in Kanchaveti village in the Akhalgori region. He often passed over the border and had never had an issue with the local Ossetian security services. However, right before the arrest he had had an argument with local law enforcement officers.
As for the accusations raised against him, Radio Liberty sources say that he did indeed serve with the Georgian army when the war broke out in 2008. However, he was on a mission in Iraq at the time and thus did not participate in the war.
The head of the Georgian administration of the Akhalgori region, Nuzgar Tinikashvili, told Georgia’s TV1 channel that Tatunashvili used to cross from the Georgian-controlled territory to Akhalgori to sell fruit and vegetables there.
“Had he been involved in hostilities, he would not have gone there,” Tinikashvili believes.
Sergi Kapanadze of the European Georgia opposition party spoke in parliament today and suggested that a bill called ‘The Otkhozoria List’ be passed. This would be analogous in form and purpose to the ‘Magnitsky List’.
[su_quote]Georgian citizen Giga Otkhozoria was killed on the Abkhazia administrative boundary by Abkhaz border guards in 2016; the case surrounding him and his death has since been dropped in Abkhazia.[/su_quote]
Kapanadze said that the list would include all the people who were involved in the deaths of Georgian citizens in the occupied territories.
He suggested cooperating with Georgia’s Western partners and imposing sanctions against the people who would be on the list. They would not be able to benefit from state programmes, including healthcare-related ones, that Georgia has offered to people living in the occupied territories.