Police officers raided two leading Tbilisi-based clubs Bassiani and Cafe Gallery in the early hours of May 12, allegedly following the leads regarding the dealing and use of club drugs.
The move, as well as the police’s heavy handed tactics, caused outcry among rights groups and opposition parties, with thousands of protesters gathering on Rustaveli avenue, capitals main thoroughfare and calling for the government officials to be held responsible. Below is a compilation of some of the reactions from Georgian politicians.
Kakha Kaladze, Tbilisi Mayor: There have been speculations that this is an attack on Tbilisi’s night-time economy and its development, which I disagree with … I would like to stress that the city’s night-time economy will further develop, and the club scene, which is a very successful industry, will definitely continue and we will support it as much as possible. We are happy with the successes that Tbilisi has in this regard, but we need to separate [this success] from what’s unfortunate … I would like to offer you to join forces and counter the drug trade and drug dealers together, in coordination with respective agencies. All of this harms the very club scene, and also specific individuals; it takes the lives of our children, brothers and sisters, our compatriots, and I am sure that the youngsters who are standing in front of the Parliament now will stand side-by-side with us and we will manage to defeat drug dealers together.
Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze: First, I would like to express my respect to the young people who are now standing on Rustaveli avenue in token of protecting the idea of freedom. I would also like to express my respect to the right to freedom of assembly … As it concerns the developments yesterday and today, I would first like to say that the government and the law enforcement agencies have specific functions [to fulfil], and specific measures are taken based on these functions. Yesterday, there was a need to implement these very measures to protect the rights of the young people. The police possessed operative information on the [planned] sale of drugs [in clubs] and it acted upon this information. This is an ordinary practice, including in clubs and including abroad. When there is an information that there may be poisonous drugs in a club or other facility, the police can implement such measures.
MP Dimitri Khundadze, the Georgian Dream party: I was following last night’s developments, and I did not watch it with pleasure, but of course it would have been better, if there had been no need for it in the first place. The fact of the matter is that the we have faced massive promotion of drugs in recent period, and drug use has become unfettered; there have been facts of overdose, death, increased volumes of medical assistance. And I think this calls for government interference, [so] I fully support the Interior Ministry and I even have a criticism to them as they should have launched their countermeasures earlier.
MP Akaki Zoidze, the Georgian Dream party: When it comes to the purpose of this operation, I think no one has any questions about it, especially when dangerous synthetic opiates have entered the market, which contain unknown poisonous substances capable of killing in seconds … Therefore, in this regards, I only welcome the detention of eight drug dealers, as well as the recent anti-drug activities of the Interior Ministry. As for whether it was necessary to implement these measures in the form of a special operation, the Interior Ministry informed us that there was an imminent necessity, and that they had the operative information [and wanted to] to intercept sale of these dangerous drugs, but I nonetheless need more details to be sure… that the threat was so imminent that it outweighed the negative result that we received.
Ana Natsvlishvili, President’s Parliamentary Secretary: No one questions the right and obligation of the interior ministry and the government to counter illegal drug trade, but the forms, the place and the methods of their countermeasures are critically important, and what we saw yesterday raises many questions … whether the police operation, as well as its specific elements, were essential, should be scrutinized both legally and in the parliamentary format.
Zurab Japaridze, New Political Center – Girchi: What we all saw yesterday night first at Bassiani and then in front of the Parliament, is an unbelievable thing, and I think, no one expected that from the government and the police. On top of the fact that this was an attack on a specific business sector, the police is now trying to justify its actions as if they arrested drug dealers. We saw very concrete instances of disproportionate use of force – how they beat protesters and pushed them into cars, including myself … The authorities gave us a very concrete response, to those who hoped that the government’s drug policy would change once and for all. Not only did they tell as No, they told us that they would be more violent and more brazen. This is what they demonstrated yesterday.
Zaal Udumashvili, the United National Movement: The Interior Ministry cannot or does not want to counter the deadly drugs that have taken the lives of several young people in recent days, and instead it decided to raid the clubs in Tbilisi. This was more of an [internationally] staged operation to demonstrate their power.
MP Elene Khoshtaria, the European Georgia: This was the government’s attack and violence against free, honest, and decent citizens and guests. It was a gross violation of human rights, the right to freedom of assembly. They organized a raid against free people in the middle of the capital. We indeed have crime-related problems in the country, which the GD government has fostered. We also have a grave situation with respect to young people dying [of drug use], and this is also due to the government’s wrong drug policy. Instead of fighting against drug use, the government used power against free, decent citizens.
Tamar Kordzaia, the Republican Party: Detention of eight people does not require operations of such scale. Such operations are used against terrorists, and what happened yesterday, was a demonstration of power, and it coincided with Bidzina Ivanishvili’s return to politics. There will definitely be a response to it since no one will tolerate such methods any more, governing by soviet methods is over in this country.
Kakha Kukava, the Free Georgia: Detention of several drug dealers once in two years, is not a real fight against drugs. We are a transit country for illicit drugs, so we need to be detaining and fighting those who are engaged in drug transit and import. Detention of petty dealers will not bring any results.
Sergi Gvarjaladze, head of the night-time economy project, Tbilisi mayor’s office: This is a very wrong form, and absolutely unacceptable for our country. This is going to show our country in a very negative light. I do not know what the police aimed at … but the situation is not only unacceptable, it also is harmful for the entire country.