Family, Supporters of Arbitrarily Detained Gakheladze Hold a March

Civic activists, and family and relatives of Zaza Gakheladze, a Georgian citizen arbitrarily detained in July 2020 and subsequently sentenced to more than twelve years by the Kremlin-backed Tskhinvali authorities, marched today in Georgia’s Shida Kartli region demanding his release.

They marched from Kvemo Chala, Gakheladze’s hometown some 3 kilometers away from the dividing line with the Occupied Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia, to Samtavisi Monastery on June 23, the detainee’s 34th birthday.

His father, Mikheil Gakheladze had initially aimed to cross the occupation line in protest, a move that the Georgian Government and the Georgian Orthodox Church advised against yesterday. Mikheil Gakheladze said today he changed his mind after an appeal by Patriarch Ilia ll, who plans to address Russian Patriarch Kiril for assisting in facilitating the Georgian citizen’s release by the occupying forces.

Slamming the Georgian Government over “inaction” in response to Gakheladze’s nearly year-long detention, the detainee’s father explained that he heeded the Orthodox Church Patriarch’s call to “give a chance” to the authorities to make further efforts.

“[Hopefully] we will not have to endure and wait for one or two years more for [the release of] our son under false hopes and promises [by the authorities],” stressed Mikheil Gakheladze.

The development followed yesterday’s separate meetings with Gakheladze’s family by Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, and Bishops Andria and Damiane, of Gori and Ateni, and Samtavisi and Kaspi, respectively.

Security service of occupied Tskhinvali also warned the protesters against “provocations,” and crossing the dividing line in a statement issued on June 22, ahead of today’s march. Noting that Tbilisi has declared “the importance of resolving the issue within the framework of international mechanisms,” the statement claimed “opposition forces” in Georgia are instead trying to foil the negotiations.

Gakheladze’s detention was discussed among others at today’s National Security Council meeting called by Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili today. Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri said afterward that the government “has done everything” and involved all of Georgia’s international partners to secure the arbitrarily detained citizen’s release.

“I hope [the Kremlin-backed authorities] will make a reasonable decision and we will see this person return to his family,” said Minister Gomelauri, refusing to provide more details on the issue as it could “disrupt the negotiations.”

Besides the Georgian Government’s efforts in pursuing the issue of Gakheladze’s detention through international formats, seven Tbilisi-based civil society outfits argued in a June 23 statement that more can be done, including “creating direct communication lines” with the Kremlin-backed Tskhinvali authorities to ensure the well-being and release of the Georgian citizen.

The joint statement also called on the government to work on an “effective policy” for ensuring human rights protection in occupied Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia. Some of the key local watchdogs, Social Justice Center, Rights Georgia, Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, Democracy Research Institute, Human Rights Center, Open Society Foundation Georgia, Association Consent signed the missive.

Zaza Gakheladze was shot and wounded, then detained by the Kremlin-backed forces in July 2020. Accused of crossing the dividing line “illegally” and assaulting a “law enforcement officer,” as well, he was sentenced to twelve years and six months by Tskhinvali judges, a decision widely condemned by Tbilisi and the international community.

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