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Tbilisi Fails to Curb Police Excess

Hopes that a new interior minister would curb sham arrests and continued police brutality have been dashed.
By Irakli Chikalidze

When Koba Narchemashvili was appointed interior minister in mid-November, many expected corruption and police violence would be radically curbed. These hopes, however, have been misplaced.


His predecessor, Kakha Targamadze, left under a cloud of allegations of graft and judicial subversion which led to the collapse of the President Eduard Shevardnadze's government at the beginning of November.


Initially, it seemed things were changing for the better. Very shortly after Narchemashvili took office, three high-profile cases were resolved. There was a suggestion that the interior minister was serious about getting on with the task of fighting crime.


First, on December 5, the police apprehended a man they suspected of murdering the television journalist Giorgi Sanaia in July. Then, a few days later, two Spanish businessmen were released from the Pankisi gorge region after being held hostage for a year by bandits. This was followed swiftly by the freeing of a Lebanese businessman who had been held for six months in the same area.


It is widely thought, however, that these "successes" were nothing more than contrived attempts to bolster the image of the ministry. There's suspicion that the police are concealing suggestions that Sanaia's murder was politically-motivated. And there is widespread speculation that high-ranking officials were involved in the kidnappings from the start.


If these high-profile cases show up to be sham, it leaves little hope of an improvement in the rest of the system which has come under repeated attack by a number of bodies - from the Council of Europe to the humanitarian NGO, Human Rights Watch.


Police violence is often highlighted by such bodies, who note that victims have little hope of bringing cases against their assailants.


Such was the case with Ludmila Fomina who claims she was beaten by her neighbour, policeman Vekhia Kavtaradze. The incident, which occurred last year, received wide press coverage, but was dismissed by the state prosecutor this summer on the grounds of insufficient medical evidence.


Fomina vowed to pursue the case and state ombudsman Nana Devderiani complained to the prosecutor that the victim's injuries had been minimised by state-appointed medical experts.


Her story echoes the findings of a Human Rights Watch report released last year. It noted that downplaying injuries was a favourite way of avoiding "the investigation and prosecution of law enforcement officials".


The Fomina case was dismissed despite the European Commission's office in Georgia saying that it ought to have been fully investigated by the state prosecutor.


The delegation's late head Gunter Beucher, speaking shortly before his death in Tbilisi on December 10, told IWPR that the case had been closed "precisely because the suspect happened to be a policeman".


Since announcing their determination to challenge the authorities, Fomina and her husband have received several threatening telephone calls as well as bribes to "forget the case".


Another case that hit the headlines occurred in November when parliamentary deputy Grigol Jojua ended up in hospital after an alleged police beating left him concussed with a broken rib.


Jojua claimed he had been assaulted by former Tbilisi police chief Soso Alavidze. "If a police chief can beat somebody so seriously, I can imagine the kind of abuse that's going on at lower levels," he said.


When asked about the case, the prosecutor's office told IWPR that charges had been brought against Alavidze but had been temporarily suspended as a result of what they said was the suspect's ill health.


Last year's Human Rights Watch report made 14 recommendations for reform in the judicial system, including one which stipulated that there was a need to bring to light "all complaints of ill-treatment and torture".


The circumstances surrounding the Jojua incident are unlikely to surface as the deputy suddenly dropped the case in mid-December. Like Fomina, it is thought he was pressured into dropping his allegations.


Some in the judiciary have lost patience with the interior ministry. "The police seem to think that the Georgian people are idiots," said former justice minister Mikheil Saakashvili who resigned in August on the grounds that there was no way to fight corruption under the current regime.


Any hopes that Targamadze's exit would herald some sort of change appear to have been dashed. Even Mirian Gogiashvili, the executive secretary of the president's own anti-corruption coordination committee, has admitted that reform of the police "remains on paper".


Irakli Chikhladze is a freelance journalist based in Tbilisi, Georgia


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