The body of Archil Tatunashvili was transferred to the Georgian authorities through the International Committee of the Red Cross, March 20, 2018. Photo: cominf.org
The body of Archil Tatunashvili, a thirty-five-year-old Georgian citizen, who died at the hands of the Russian-backed authorities in Tskhinvali on February 22, was transferred to the Tbilisi-administered territory.
The body was handed over to the Georgian side through the International Committee of the Red Cross late-night on March 20 in village Ergneti, a few kilometers away from the town of Tskhinvali.
Murat Jioev, representative of the Russian-backed Tskhinvali leader Anatoly Bibilov, told the local media that the body was transferred to the Georgian authorities together with the results of an “independent forensic examination” of Tskhinvali autopsy’s materials, conducted in Russia.
Reconciliation Minister Ketevan Tsikhelashvili, who was in Ergneti together with other government officials, told the journalists that Tatunashvili’s body would be examined by the National Forensics Bureau in Tbilisi before being transferred to his family.
IDP Minister Sozar Subari, who was in Ergneti as well, stressed in his remarks that the handover was “overdue,” and also noted that the examination would be completed “in the shortest time possible so that the body is transferred to the family.”
“This does not mean that the examination process will be over; the cause of death will be studied and established in full,” Subari said. He also confirmed that the Tskhinvali authorities submitted “some files” along with the body, “apparently containing the autopsy materials.”
Aleksandre Khojevanishvili of the Interior Ministry clarified that the examination would “take several hours.” He also stressed that the Ministry was probing into this “appalling” incident, and that it was important “to investigate the fact fully, and to establish and punish the group of offenders.”
Archil Tatunashvili, a thirty-five-year-old native of Akhalgori Municipality in Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia, lived in Georgia proper, but crossed into Akhalgori periodically, where he was reportedly selling fruit and vegetables.
Tatunashvili was apprehended on February 22 in Akhalgori, with local authorities accusing him of “genocide against South Ossetians,” ties with the Georgian security agencies, and “preparing new acts of sabotage on the territory of the republic shortly before the election of the President of Russian Federation.”
Tskhinvali authorities said on February 23 that during his transfer to a detention cell after being questioned, Tatunashvili fought back and “sustained injuries, was knocked down and rolled down the stairs,” after which he was taken to hospital, where he died of heart failure.
Tatunashvili’s relatives deny the version, saying he was tortured and killed by the Tskhinvali security forces. Public Defender Nino Lomjaria said Tatunashvili was already dead when he was taken to hospital and had signs of being beaten.
Archil Tatunashvili’s family members had been requesting the transfer of his body to the Tbilisi-administered territory, but Tskhinvali representatives had rejected their appeal, saying the body would not be released to the family until an “independent examination” of Tskhinvali autopsy’s materials was conducted in Russia.
Archil Tatunashvili’s death in Tskhinvali custody was condemned by Tbilisi and the international community, including the European Union, Lithuania, the U.S. Embassy in Georgia, the U.S. State Department, the United Kingdom, Latvia, Estonia, Germany, Finland, Spain, Japan, the Czech Republic, Poland, CoE Congress President, PACE Rapporteurs for Georgia, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the human rights committee chair at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.