The Interior Ministry of Georgia confirmed it “fired the warning shots” today in Sakulia village, in western Tskaltubo Municipality. According to the police, one of the protesters against Namakhvani HPP was detained for having physically assaulted the officer on May 29 in nearby Gumati village. The detained activist is charged and is facing four to seven years in prison.
The initial police report did not mention the warning shots, but following the witness testimonies to the media, the second, amended report was issued. It said the locals resisted the arrest, insulted the police officers, tried to stop them and liberate the detainee. Reportedly, they also threw stones, with two policemen sustaining unspecified injuries.
Unconfirmed reports of wounded
The media cited witnesses saying two persons were wounded in legs during the arrest, which happened at the village cemetery of Sakulia. A brother of the detainee said the riot police detachment entered the cemetery “using swearwords and firing shots towards feet.” The police do not confirm these reports.
The Ministry of Interior said the cemetery incident is being investigated under Article 353 of the Criminal Code, resisting or using violence against the police, which is punishable by up to seven years in prison.
Varlam Goletiani, one of the leaders of the anti-Namakhvani HPP protest, questioned the proportionality of the police action. He said the person in question was not evading police, and the operation involving tens of riot policemen at the cemetery was not warranted. He also suggested that on 29 May the detained protester hit the policemen during the skirmish, without targeting him on purpose.
Goletiani accused the authorities of a “well-planned provocation” and of attempts to force their protest into a “destructive” direction and to discredit them. “We [will continue] to act in a peaceful way,” he asserted.
For days now, protesters against the controversial Namakhvani Hydropower Plant have been banging their hands against the metal barrier erected by the police in Gumati – the southern entry to the Rioni River valley where the HPP is set to be built. Gumati is just 10 minutes drive from the key western Georgian city of Kutaisi and has become the epicenter of protest since April, after the police dismantled the protest camp near the prospective HPP site in Namakhvani village.
Protesters returned to Gumati on May 26 after having spent four days rallying in the capital, Tbilisi. As tensions mount, Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri said on May 31 he does not rule out the use of water cannons and tear gas, should things escalate further.