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Abkhazia: Concerns Mount Over ‘Systemic Crisis’ in Law Enforcement

Abkhaz lawmakers summoned ‘interior minister’ Dmitri Dbar, chief prosecutor Adgur Agrba and other security officials on November 24 amid mounting concerns over “systemic crisis” in the law enforcement system and deteriorating crime situation in the occupied region. Earlier that morning, before heated exchanges between officials and opposition lawmakers, shooting on a micro-bus with passengers took place in western Gudauta municipality.  

The extraordinary parliament session was convened following an appeal of the People’s Patriotic Union of Abkhazia, a new political platform signed into existence by 9 opposition outfits on November 17, with a declared goal to counteract “anti-national” projects of current Abkhaz leader Aslan Bzhania’s administration.

The Patriotic Union called for the session to discuss the September 30 brawl between war veterans and police officials, a suicide of a young man in police custody in Gagra, and the November 16 police operation against the deceased man’s friends, reportedly plotting a murder of Gagra policemen, that eventually left one suspect dead and another injured.

Opposition’s Concerns and Allegations Against Officials

In the ‘parliament,’ one of the leaders of opposition Aidgilara group, Lasha Shamba read out the The Patriotic Union’s address, highlighting  the controversial September 30 shooting incident and the ongoing probe against deputies Garri Kokaia and Almaskhan Ardzinba over their role during and in the aftermath of the event.

The two other cases mentioned revolved around the death of Anri Ateiba, 24-year-old man who passed away on September 14, a month after attempting suicide in a temporary detention facility in Gagra on August 12. Ateiba’s mother alleged her son was beaten and driven to suicide by police officers. He was reportedly detained on August 7 on suspicion of committing violence against the Gagra district police official.

In the aftermath of Ateiba’s death, on November 16, police tried to arrest the deceased man’s friends, Amir Ketia, 22 and Omar Khagush, 23, suspected in murder plot of police officers. The arrest led to shootout between policemen and two suspects, leading to Ketia’s murder and Khagush receiving wounds. The opposition in their appeal called the incident “the apotheosis of systemic abuse of office, unprofessionalism, and impunity of employees of internal affairs agencies.”

The opposition called for taking urgent measures against “officials who carry personal responsibility for the aggravation of the internal political situation” in the region. They stressed that “contrary to the requirements of the current legislation and common sense,” Abkhaz leader Aslan Bzhania failed to take urgent measures.

Law enforcement officials Retort

In a heated exchange, the law enforcement officials attending the meeting – ‘interior minister’ Dmitri Dbar, chief prosecutor Adgur Agrba, Sokhumi city prosecutor Alkhas Agumava and security service chair Robert Kiut – tried to defend themselves from the accusations.

With regards to Ateiba, prosecutor Agrba said a criminal case was initiated against three police officers. Speaking about the November 16 incident, he underscored that both Ketia and Khagush were armed and were first to open fire against the police, adding that prosecutors did not see police had committed any violations.

‘Interior minister’ Dmitri Dbar also underlined that despite their young age, Ketia and Khagush had been repeatedly convicted on serious charges, also pointing out that two years prior to the incident, Ateiba had already tried to commit suicide in another police department.

Regarding September 30 incident, Dbar reiterated that he has apologized to the veterans, also noting that he was cleared by the prosecution over the high-profile case.

Dbar on his part, also expressed concerns over what he called opposition’s open fight against the law enforcement system. “This worries me, as the interior minister because instead of doing my job, I’ve been engaged in politics for two months,” he was quoted as saying by Apsnypress.

Following the discussions, the assembly of lawmakers considered adopting a resolution, calling on Aslan Bzhania to dismiss Dbar and initiate the chief prosecutor’s dismissal procedures with the ‘parliament.’ It also urged the prosecutor’s office to fire Sokhumi prosecutor Alkhas Agumava. The resolution, however, did not receive enough votes from the deputies.

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