Members of opposition United National Movement and European Georgia have voiced suspicions on political persecution and evidence-planting after police reportedly arrested two former law enforcement officials in several operations across Georgia.
Lekso Rapava, former Deputy Head of Khobi Police Department, and Giorgi Datiashvili, former unit head at the Interior Ministry’s now-defunct Department of Constitutional Security, were reportedly both detained on October 20-21, during police raids on their homes in Khobi and Tbilisi, respectively.
Both were reportedly charged with Article 236 (3) of the Criminal Code, involving illegal purchase and storage of firearms, ammunition, explosives or explosive devices.
Civil.ge reached out to the Interior Ministry on October 21 to confirm the detentions, as well as for details on the charges pursued against the detainees. The Ministry has not yet issued comments.
Rapava was reportedly on the night of October 20-21. A man identified by government-critical Mtavari Arkhi TV as his defense lawyer, Davit Akhalia, claimed dozens of police special unit officers stormed Rapava’s house, planted an automatic firearm and a grenade, and detained him.
Akhalia linked the reported detention to Rapava’s political activities, particularly his support of the United National Movement party.
Teona Absava, identifying as Rapava’s wife, said his spouse had a license to carry a firearm and kept a registered gun at home, for hunting. Later on October 21, Rapava’s friends and relatives gathered at Khobi police station to protest the detention, confronting police officers guarding the place.
A man identifying as a former police officer, Ruslan Shamakhia has claimed his house was searched as well on the night of October 20-21, speculating the police could have planted weapons and detained him had he been home.
Revaz Lazishvili, a department head in Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti border police, said on October 21 he filed resignation in protest of Rapava’s detention and search of Shamakhia’s home. “I could not watch from the office such actions carried out against hero policemen and made the decision to quit the position,” Lazishvili told reporters.
As for Datiashvili, reportedly detained in Tbilisi on October 21, his lawyer Vakhtang Iashvili claimed police seized bullets during a room search which the suspect was not allowed to attend.
Iashvili linked the detention to the suspect “becoming [politically] active” recently, including attending “along with the boys detained in Samegrelo” the October 14 rally in Tbilisi, demanding the release of jailed Ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Opposition Alleges Persecution
Calling the reported police operations in Samegrelo “a revenge from the government,” UNM leader Akaki Minashvili claimed on October 21 the authorities began political persecution. “This is a sign of this government’s panic,” he added.
UNM member Ani Tsitlidze said the authorities’ goal is to “neutralize persons who took an active part in deciphering the election-rigging scheme.”
Opposition activist Tengiz Gunava, former MP, claimed the authorities are “repressing” former policemen who oppose the GD government and “hindered rigging” of the October 2 local elections.
European Georgia’s Lasha Damenia argued the detaining “former law enforcers means creating new political prisoners.” Decrying the GD government’s “transgression,” Damenia claimed the governing party is trying to intimidate the public ahead of the October 30 runoffs.
PM Says Detentions “Absolutely Normal”
Responding to journalists about the reported detentions, Prime Minister Garibashvili said it is “absolutely normal” if police acted on information received about a possible crime.
About Lazishvili’s resignation, the PM said: “Whoever wants to be active in [political] parties, they should then take off their uniform and go to this or that party.”
He claimed Lazishvili was “the closest friend Akhalaia,” alluding to either of the Akhalaia brothers, Bacho and Data. The two were infamous UNM-era law enforcement officials hailing from Samegrelo, and have been convicted by Georgian courts on various grave crimes committed during office years.
“The sooner the lustration of this or that person takes place, and they choose party activities, the better for us – the police will be cleaned of such pseudo-officers,” the PM noted.
The reported detentions come as Georgia has entered a tense campaign ahead of the October 30 runoffs of municipal elections.