Georgian doctor imprisoned in South Ossetia for “trespassing state border” released
Vazha Gaprindashvili, the Georgian doctor who was arrested in South Ossetia for “trespassing the state border” and sentenced to 21 months in prison, has been released today on December 28.
He was pardoned by president of South Ossetia Anatoly Bibilov, South-Ossetian news agency Osinform reports.
“During the investigation, with the aim of identifying persons who may have had a hand in the war crimes committed in 1989-1992, 2004 and 2008, the detainee was shown documentary video footage related to the incidents of genocide of the South-Ossetian population, including the Zari and Eredvi tragedies.
He was taken to visit the places where people were killed during those events. Gaprindashvili showed interest in the [investigation] materials he was shown. During the tour of Tskhinval, he demonstrated goodwill, did not turn down the refreshments that were offered to him, and praised the Ossetian cuisine.
During the court hearing [of his case], he apologized for ‘the inconvenience caused by [his] actions’, and thanked the Ossetian people for the ‘comfort [he was held in while in custody]’”.
In his first statement after he was released, Vazha Gaprindashvili thanked the Georgian government, parliament, interior ministry and state security service for working to have him freed, and gave a shout-out to his family, friends and everyone who had supported him.
He said he felt well and promised to give a detailed account of his stay in Tskhinvali later.
President of Georgia Salome Zurabishvili has already congratulated Gaprindashvili on his freedom. Interior minister David Zalkaliani has said the freedom is ‘the result of work carried out by the Georgian authorities’.
Vazha Gaprindashvili who is the president of the Georgian Podiatrists’ Association was detained in the Georgian-Ossetian conflict zone on November 9. Representatives of the Tskhinvali side alleged he had “violated the state border and crossed over into the Ossetian side”.
Georgian government and media reported that the arrested doctor wouldn’t plead guilty and maintained that he couldn’t have trespassed because there was no state border in the conflict zone.
Tskhinvali condemned Gaprindashvili’s actions as a deliberate provocation. Also, the Ossetian authorities published a wiretap audio that they said was proof of him being the Georgian intelligence services’ man.
It is still unclear how and why Vazha Gaprindashvili ended up in Tskhinvali.
On December 20, the Tskhinali court sentenced him to 21 months in prison. The international community cooperated actively with the Georgian authorities to help them get him freed. A series of rallies were held in Tbilisi, demanding that he be unconditionally released. Many of the protesters believed the Georgian authorities were not doing enough to free the doctor.
Cases of Georgian citizens detained by the Russian military in the Georgian-Ossetian conflict zone for “violating the state border” are common. After the Georgia-Russia war over South Ossetia in 2008, the Russian military have been deployed all along the administrative boundary line, marking it with barbed wire and banners saying it is “state border” and “South Ossetia”.
The Russian and Ossetians sides call the process “borderization”, saying they are using old, pre-war maps of the Soviet time to bring the border back to where it once was. The Georgian side has condemned the process as “creeping occupation”, saying the Russian side has been seizing new chunks of the Georgian land.
Meanwhile, as a result of the process, Georgian villages have ended up divided in two by the barbed wire, leaving dozens of families cut away from their farmsteads and unable to visit their family cemeteries.