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Protesters standing in front of the Parliament building in Tbilisi, March 12, 2018. Photo: Eana Korbezashvili/Civil.ge

Government Under Fire over Tbilisi Drug Raid

Drug raids in two leading clubs in Tbilisi in the early hours of 12 May and the police’s heavy handed tactics, caused outcry among rights groups and drug policy activists, prompting calls for resignation of Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili and Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia.

The White Noise Movement, one one of the most ardent proponents of drug policy liberalization, convened a press briefing earlier today, and accused the authorities of “staging a show” and “starting a war against its citizens.”

“What we have been observing during the last few months can only be described as a cascade of crimes committed against the people by its own government, the government that has been stressing that its main value is the people, the very people that it beat, arrested and persecuted yesterday,” the Movement’s Beka Tsikarishvili stressed.

Tsikarishvili also accused the authorities of “poisoning and sacrificing” its own people to prepare “grounds for yesterday’s bloody, black Friday,” apparently echoing the White Noise Movement’s May 5 statement that attributed the recent drug-related deaths to tampered drugs “intentionally” distributed on the black market.

“Two or three days ago, we were informed on our Facebook page, as well as in person by our supporters, that some provocations were being planned against clubs; that there could have been some staged video footage showing the sale of drugs so that the public discontent [over drug deaths] could be used against clubs and other groups fighting for humane ideas in the country,” he noted.

The police handling of the incident earned the criticism from other civil society organizations as well.

Mikheil Benidze of the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy underscored that the police raid illustrated that the government was “neither willing, nor able to carry out a real and effective drug policy.”

“The use of the police authority has been taking increasingly dangerous forms, which raises the risk of human rights violations,” he noted, blaming the authorities of “cultivating the soviet-style ideology through demonizing the club scene.”

The message was echoed by Giorgi Mshvenieradze of the Georgian Democracy Initiative added. “This is a manifest violence against freedom as an idea; this is an intentional crackdown on clubs as “places of decadence,” and not an anti-drug operation. Otherwise, detention of eight drug dealers who have been under police surveillance for three months, could have happened midday as well,” Mshvenieradze said.

Up to 20 rights groups and clubs, including the White Noise Movement, called a protest rally later on Saturday, accusing the authorities of declaring a war “against the ideas and values that has united thousands around Tbilisi clubs.” “These clubs are not only for entertainment, but represent spaces for free expression, development and social changes,” the organizations wrote in their statement.

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