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Tbilisi Calls for Detained Woman’s Immediate Release

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Georgian leaders have unanimously condemned the detention of a 37-year-old Georgian citizen, Maia Otinashvili, a resident of village Khurvaleti in Gori Municipality, on charges of “crossing the state border of South Ossetia,” and called for her immediate release.

According to the account of locals, Otinashvili, the mother of three minors, was detained on September 29 near village Khurvaleti in the Tbilisi-controlled territory. The Moscow-backed Tskhinvali authorities claim, however, that she was detained in the vicinity of Tsinagari, a neighboring village inside the Russian-held area. They also claim Otinashvili helped locals in crossing “the state border” in exchange for money.

In a statement on October 3, PM Mamuka Bakhtadze said the Government had hoped the woman’s release “would be possible within several hours, though it has not happened yet.” “We need to do our best to make sure that our citizen returns to her family,” he added.

Bakhtadze also noted that he had instructed the Foreign Ministry to brief the Tbilisi-based diplomats and international organizations on the development. In a media engagement after the meeting on October 3, FM Davit Zalkaliani said Otinashvili’s “kidnapping” and “illegal” detention was “absolutely unacceptable for us and for the international community.”

Justin McKenzie Smith, the British Ambassador to Georgia, joined in expressing concerns, calling “on those responsible for detaining to release her so that she can return to her family.”

The statements came shortly after Georgian Public Defender Nino Lomjaria reported, citing Otinashvili’s relatives, that the woman was beaten at a Russian base in village Tsinagari. Lomjaria also said although Otinashvili had a lawyer in Tskhinvali, the latter had not been able to visit the detainee in prison, “increasing the doubts that she was physically assaulted.”

Counter-accusations

Tskhinvali authorities responded with counter-accusations, slamming Tbilisi for voicing “absolutely groundless and false accusations.” “It seems like some forces in Georgia are interested in [deliberate] border violations, so that they can then use it for PR purposes,” reads the October 3 statement of Murat Jioev, the region’s chief negotiation with Tbilisi.

Tskhinvali also denied the reports that Otinashvili was beaten while in detention. Maria Kotaeva, spokesperson of the Tskhinvali authorities, convened a special press briefing on the matter on October 4, saying the woman felt well, and was able to use lawyer’s and translation services from the moment she was arrested.

Kotaeva also said the International Committee of the Red Cross and a group of local journalists were allowed to visit Otinashvili in custody, and that the woman would remain in pretrial detention for one month, instead of the initially announced two months.

Later on October 4, the South Ossetian service of Sputnik, a Russian state-owned news agency, released a video footage showing Otinashvili’s meeting with journalists. In a brief conversation with reporters, Otinashvili said she was not beaten and was being treated well.

Although the woman bore no visual signs of harm, Galina Kelekhsaeva, Otinashvili’s mother, claims she looked “morally broken,” and was “limping.” “She had no other way but to say what they told her to say,” Galina Kelekhsaeva told the Tbilisi-based Imedi TV.

Khurvaleti, a mixed Georgian-Ossetian village in Gori Municipality, borders with the Russian-controlled area on three sides. The village was particularly affected in the borderization process; according to the Public Defender’s office, approximately 36 hectares of agricultural land and pastures, as well as the village cemetery and several households, appeared in the Russian-held territory in the aftermath of the 2008 war.

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)

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