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Gay Rights Activists Assaulted, Briefly Detained

Levan Berianidze and Tornike Kusiani, senior activists of the Equality Movement, Tbilisi-based LGBT rights organization, were assaulted physically allegedly on a homophobic basis, first by unidentified persons, and then by police officers.

The incident occurred early morning on August 25 in Batumi in western Georgia.

According to the Equality Movement, Levan Berianidze and Tornike Kusiani, executive director and board member of the organization, respectively, as well as three transgender women, were physically assaulted by unidentified persons in Batumi boulevard.

In the words of the organization, the victims sought help from police officers who were standing nearby, but the law enforcers failed to react adequately. Instead, Berianidze and Kusiani were detained and transferred to a local police station, where they were allegedly again subjected to physical and verbal abuse on homophobic grounds. The two activists were charged under articles 166 and 173 of the Administrative Offenses Code of Georgia, involving disorderly conduct and police disobedience, respectively.

A lawyer and a representative of the Public Defender’s Office visited Berianidze on August 25 and confirmed that the detainees had marks of physical abuse. “We are trying to find out whether there were any procedural violations by the police. The time and circumstances of the bodily injuries need to be established,” Tsiala Katamidze of the Public Defender’s office stated. Later, photos depicting the blood spots on their body were published by Berianidze and Kusiani themselves.

The Ministry of Interior provided a contradictory version of the incident. In its statement to the media, the Ministry said the police officers showed up on spot after receiving notification regarding a physical confrontation between unidentified persons. The law enforces called on the participants to observe order, but Berianidze and Kusiani, who “were particularly aggressive,” did not obey to the police demands and verbally abused them.

The Batumi City Court, where the detainees were transferred after their detention, released Berianidze and Kusiani on the same day, but a day later the Court deemed both activists guilty and imposed fines on each of them in the amount of 300 GEL.

Representatives of civil society organizations and rights groups rallied against the detention of Berianidze and Kusiani on August 25 in Tbilisi and on August 26 in Batumi.

18 non-governmental organizations released a joint statement on the matter, saying the government lacks “a unified strategy and policy to combat hate crimes” and that “homo/bi/transphobic crimes often remain without effective response and investigation by the police.”

“In these cases, there is a tendency from the police officers to put the blame on and detain the victims. Moreover, in some cases, the police itself resorts to violence against members of the LGBT community and manifests its homo/bi/transphobic attitudes in the most severe manner,” reads the statement.

The organizations called on the prosecutor’s office to conduct an effective and timely investigation of the case, as well as to highlight its nature as a hate crime. They also urged the Ministry of Internal Affairs, to immediately suspend the police officers who allegedly participated in the incident, and if their participation is confirmed, to dismiss them from the police.

Timely investigation into the matter was also demanded by the Public Defender’s office, which said in its statement on August 25 that “instances of violence and homophobic facts, where the LGBT community representatives spoke of police inaction and improper treatment, have increased in recent years.”

“It is important for the state [institutions] to have a timely reaction to each of the facts of alleged excess of power and if confirmed, hold those guilty accountable,” reads the statement.

According to media reports, the General Inspectorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs will examine the possible excess of police power against Berianidze and Kusiani. The prosecutor’s office is investigating the case under the article involving the abuse of authority.

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