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Violent Mob Attacks Opposition Politician, Youth Camp

A violent mob – reportedly 50-60 men – threw stones, red paint, and shouted insults at the hotel where a youth summer camp was taking place. The incident took place today in the resort town of Borjomi, around 11:00. In what seems like a related incident, Zurab Japaridze, leader of the Girchi-More Freedom party, who was en route to speak at the camp, was punched in the face by an unknown man earlier that day, around 9:00.

According to the camp organizers, it took police almost an hour to arrive at the scene. According to the latest information, the camp is suspended, and the participants have reportedly been driven to the safety of their homes.

The camp, titled Liberal Education Academy, is bringing together 15-16-year-old students and is held by the Insitute for Individual Liberty (IFIL), an activist civil society group. Japaridze is one of the more visible leaders of the liberal opposition.

Present among the assailants at the hotel was Vato Shakarishvili, previously one of the active members of the ruling Georgian Dream’s youth wing, who established a “Conservative movement – Georgia Above All” last year pledging to “end the diktat of the liberals.” Shakarishvili is associated with pro-governmental and pro-Russian media personalities such as Giorgi Gachechiladze (Ucnobi) and Giorgi Khaindrava. In his Facebook post, Shakarishvili mocked Japaridze and said, “one Georgian man” punched the politician “for insulting the Church and the Patriarch.”

Liberal-minded youth movements Franklin Club, the Institute for Individual Liberty, Shame Movement, and Droa! were targeted by the ruling party and its affiliated media with incendiary rhetoric as the authorities accused them of inciting violence during the protest rallies in March. The ruling party also lashed out at Georgia’s European partners for providing funding to these outlets. Japaridze was also personally targeted by such attacks.

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Speaking to the media, Shakarishvili confirmed that the attackers were supporters of the movement but denied they threw stones, claiming that all was done “in respect to the right of free expression.” Shakarishvili was quoted as saying, “These were outraged people, Georgian people [….] supporters of our movement “Georgia Above All” who will never accept for the youth to be poisoned by the enemies of the country. Violence is what Zura [Japaridze] is doing.”

Elene Khoshtaria, the leader of the party Droa, took to Twitter, stating: “[This would not have been] possible without GD’s active encouragement, not to mention the effect of their propaganda. The pro-Western, liberal democratic people are in physical danger in Georgia, a state captured by the Russian oligarch. The police are not in a hurry to arrive either. Unsurprising.”

Giorgi Vashadze, the leader of the Strategy Aghmashenebeli, called out the GD , stating: “…The pro-Russian Dream activated the Russian violence machine… And right now, it is attacking the “Girchi More Freedom” youth camp in Borjomi, where the European perspective and the issues of the de-occupation of Georgia are being discussed. A violent group is threatening the youth in the camp. Zurab Japaridze was also attacked this morning. I call on the Georgian Dream, [Irakli] Kobakhidze, and [PM Irakli] Garibashvili – you cannot turn Georgia into Russia, stop inciting violence and civil unrest! Stay away from young people and the future of Georgia.”

Nika Melia, the former Chair of UNM, stated: “Russia is no different than this: violence in the name of religion, war in the name of peace, and murder in the name of life,” he said. Referring to Vato Shakarishvili’s post Melia also wrote: “And what is written here is violence. It is a crime to do it, to like it, to share it and to encourage it! This has nothing to do with Christianity, nationality, or Europeanness!”

Mamuka Khazaradze, the leader of the Lelo party, shared on Facebook: “All this is the result of the impunity that ‘Georgian Dream’ promotes. We’ve seen this scenario, the stone-throwing, the physical assault, we’ve seen it in the past, and we all remember it well. This violent regime will also end! But until then, I once again and categorically demand that law enforcement agencies immediately take action and enforce the law. All abusers and criminals must be punished!”

Another leader of Lelo, Badri Japaridze stated: “This violence was directly incited by the aggressive statements made by Georgian Dream speakers towards their opponents.”

Opposition MP Khatia Dekanoidze referring to  Russian propaganda, said:  “Propaganda mud was thrown at Zura Japaridze so that propaganda would again say: ‘outraged’ people are violent. Violent Russian propaganda must be stopped. This is the essence of the battle.”

The GD authorities have not commented so far.

Public Defender’s Statement

The Public Defenders office has “categorically condemned” the two incidents and called on law enforcement agencies to take “prompt and effective measures to ensure the security of the participants” and to investigate the incident. The office said it would remain actively seized of the matter.

The Statement by the CSOs

More than 70 non-governmental organizations have issued a joint statement on the violent attacks on June 17 against Zurab Japaridze, the youth camp in Borjomi, and the TSU students. The civil society organizations stress that these three attacks, which took place within such a short period of time, were obviously pre-planned and organized.

These attacks contradict the values of Georgian society, the statement reads. The CSOs underline that the persecution of opposition politicians and the population is the style of the Putinist regime in Russia, as well as the violent suppression of freedom of speech and expression. The undersigned civil society organizations call on the law enforcement authorities to immediately prevent hate crimes and to punish the perpetrators to the full extent of the law.

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This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)

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