‘They smashed everything on their way’
A conflict that started on October 8, on the day of parliamentary elections in Georgia, is escalating. 6 young people (aged 19-24) have been arrested for an attack on the polling station and resistance to the police. All of them are the members of the youth wing of the oppositional United National Movement (UNM) (ex-President MikheilSaakashvili’s party).
The local Azerbaijani community is outraged over the arrests and demands fair investigation. In particular, people say that the ruling Georgian Dream alliance nominated the local Georgian, Tamaz Naveriani as its majoritarian MP candidate, having ignored the Azerbaijani candidate, who was lobbied by the community.
“People don’t talk about it openly, but the majority supported Akhmed Imamkuliyev [the UNM’s majoritarian MP candidate]. It was the first time that a young local man stood in election. His defeat at polls was perceived as ballot rigging, since he was supported by many, Azerbaijani female resident of Marneuli told JAMnews privately.
A mass scuffle in Kizilajlo village, Marneuli district (Georgia) on election day, October 8, began in the afternoon and eventually disrupted the election at this polling station. As one of the villagers told JAMnews, on that day a man was seen entering the polling station and casting his ballot several times. The observers from several parties, who were standing outside the polling station, expressed their indignation and demanded to stop the election process. However, their demands were ignored and a scandal quickly grew into a mass scuffle, involving thousands of people and the SWAT officers.
As the Interior Ministry spokesperson reported at the emergency briefing, the arrested young people demonstrated particular aggression during the Kizilajlo incident. They were encouraging people to attack the polling station, seize the ballot box and stone the police.
The next day, the arrestees (their names were not made public) were sent to 2-month pre-trial detention.
Meanwhile, the arrestees’ relatives have a different version of developments. In their words, the SWAT officers burst into their houses at 5 a.m., without any prior warning.
“There was a terrible commotion. We didn’t even immediately understand what was going on. They were holding assault rifles. They smashed everything on their way. There is nothing left intact in the house, a relative of one of the arrestees says on video.
According to David Kokoishvili, the detainees’ lawyer, 3 accused persons had been beaten. Elene Khoshtaria, the UNM member, who attended the court proceeding, also confirmed the aforesaid fact.
The arrestees’ relatives claim thatnot only the detainees, but also their relatives and even the pregnant women, were physically insulted by the SWAT officers. Today, many locals point to the fact that only Azerbaijanis were facing trial, whilst Georgians had been also involved in the scuffle.
Georgian Interior Ministry immediately refuted the lawyer’s allegation, claiming it could provide the documentary evidence – photos and records.
As Gia Khukhashvili, an expert, told JAMnews, there is a risk that some serious problems could emerge in Kvemo Kartli region. Therefore, the government needs to pay due attention to the region.
“Marneuli has always been a good opportunity to the authorities–the locals have never been regarded as meaningful electorate and the authorities have always taken advantage of their complaisance. However,this year, things have developed under absolutely different scenario.
The positive aspect here is that people express different political views, rather than just vote for the ruling power.
The authorities should mind that ethnic minority issue is a very sensitive one and they need to act in a way that won’t cause a feeling of insecurity and injustice in people. Otherwise, the conflict will be further aggravated.
The vote tally from #48 polling station was declared void and there will be an election re-run there on Saturday, October 22.
Meanwhile, there are some other people, who have been also affected by the incident. Namely, the students of Kizilajlo school. The ill-fated #48 polling station was accommodated in the local school building, which is now in a deplorable condition. Most of the windows were smashed, the frames and doors were broken there.