Police detained Nika Melia, the largest opposition party leader, in the early morning of February 23 during a special operation at the United National Movement headquarters.
Law enforcers stormed the office building where Melia, fellow opposition leaders and supporters have been gathered following the Court’s February 17 order for pretrial detention.
Varying media reports said police used either tear gas or pepper spray when entering Melia’s cabinet by force, as live footage showed opposition supporters coughing.
“This is the end of this government. We are firm and united in our faith,” Melia asserted in the moments ahead of his detention. The opposition leader called PM Garibashvili and Georgian Dream founder Bidzina Ivanishvili “traitors,” adding that “no Georgian should be tried in court” for protesting a Russian MP’s presence in the country’s legislature.
The Interior Ministry said it used “proportional force and special means” during the operation, arguing opposition supporters “resisted” law enforcers despite “numerous warnings.” Officers also detained 21 persons, including UNM member Giorgi Baramidze, under Article 173 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, involving disobedience of police orders. The Ministry confirmed later that police seized computer servers from the party headquarters.
Ruling Georgian Dream party chair Irakli Kobakhidze thanked Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri for holding “an exemplary [special] operation” to arrest Melia. Listing earlier criminal proceedings against Melia, MP Kobakhidze said the UNM leader “arrested himself” by refusing to post increased bail. The GD chair also scolded Melia as one of the main initiators of the “parliamentary sabotage” [boycott].
“On the Red Army day, Red Party Bolsheviks once again confronted the Georgian state, but as it was confirmed, modern-day Bolsheviks, Mikheil Saakashvilis, Nika Gvaramias, Giga Bokerias, Nikanor Melias, Nino Burjanadzes, Nato Chkheidzes, Irakli Okruashvilis cannot diminish the Georgian state,” MP Kobakhidze asserted.
Public Defender Nino Lomjaria condemned the arrest of the opposition leader: “Nothing more disgraceful could happen on February 23, on the centennial anniversary of Georgia’s loss of independence and the Sovietization, as the ravaging of the opposition office and arrest of the opposition leader.” This will drift Georgia apart from the West, Lomjaria stated.
— Edgars Rinkēvičs (@edgarsrinkevics) February 23, 2021
Co-Chair of the Georgia Caucus at the U.S. House of Representatives Adam Kinzinger said he was very concerned with the raid, warning that tabling the Georgia Support Act in the House “is not something that is automatic.”
“Using gas and violence like Putin once. Ivanishvili regime should pay the price!” Seimas Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Žygimantas Pavilionis said, dubbing Melia’s arrest as an “attack” on democracy. The senior Lithuanian lawmaker visited Georgia over the weekend, in an attempt to help solve the political crisis and prevent the opposition leader’s detention.
The special operation came few hours after the election of new PM Irakli Garibashvili, who vowed during his confirmation hearing yesterday to “establish order in the country and return a number of destructive forces to the constitutional order and framework.” Garibashvili dubbed Melia as “criminal” and warned that he would not escape justice.
The ruling Georgian Dream party selected Garibashvili as Giorgi Gakharia’s replacement, who resigned on February 18 citing disagreement with his colleagues on the UNM Chair’s detention.