Thursday, June 20, 2024

Georgia: Peaceful protesters beaten by police squads as Kremlin’s shadow looms

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The shadow of the Kremlin looms darker over Georgia at the end of this week, just as it does over Ukraine.

The authoritarian cause has been advanced in this small Caucasian republic in the teeth of fierce opposition on its streets and from Europe and America.

There have been howls of outrage in Western capitals at the passing of what the White House calls a new “Kremlin style” law, but if the West hopes to prise Georgia away from Russian dominance it may require action and not just rhetoric.

Georgia’s pro-Russian government has passed a law that is part of the toolkit of any regime sliding towards autocracy.

It will allow authorities here to control the media and civil rights organisations in the run up to elections.

But more worrying, perhaps, is there now also seems to be a concerted campaign of intimidation underway.

Image:
A protester faces off policemen blocking a street. Pic: David Mdzinarishvili/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

It is ominously reminiscent of what we have seen in other countries succumbing to Russian influence.

A delegation of European foreign ministers visiting Tbilisi were horrified.

Lithuania’s Gabrielius Landbergsis told Sky News: “This reminds of the events that we’ve seen in Belarus, in Minsk in 2020, when 600,000 protesters walked out on a stolen election and we’ve seen exactly the same police brutality.

“So, this is truly very, very worrying.”

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Georgia protests: What happened?

Sky News witnessed numerous cases of police snatch squads seizing peaceful protesters and pummelling them as they were dragged behind police lines.

From windows above, other cameras filmed their fate.

We found one of the victims of the police brutality recovering from multiple head injuries.

‘I’m a bug who must be squashed’

Garum Adamia had come to protest outside parliament on Monday when a mob of masked men in uniform surrounded him.

We had filmed up close as the police beat him repeatedly in the head and hauled him away.

He described that terrifying moment.

“When this happened, I knew that everything is gone now,” he told us two days later. “And when they started to beat me intensely on the way then I felt that, OK, I am in a very different situation.”

His fears were well founded. Another camera caught his fate behind police lines.

The footage shows him surrounded, being punched again and again by security forces and then stamped on.

But he says what disturbed him most was the de-humanising abuse the masked thugs yelled at him as they beat him.

Pic: AP
Police try to block demonstrators near the Parliament building during an opposition protest against "the Russian law" in the center of Tbilisi, Georgia, on Monday, May 13, 2024. Daily protests are continuing against a proposed bill that critics say would stifle media freedom and obstruct the country's bid to join the European Union. (AP Photo/Zurab Tsertsvadze)
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Police try to block demonstrators near the Parliament building. Pic: AP


“For them, I was not a person, I was just a junky and an American shill,” he said. “I’m not a person, I’m a bug who must be squashed.”

The unit attacking him seemed ideologically motivated, he says, unlike some of the other conventional police there that day.

Garum is recovering at home with his beloved dog, Fry, named after the British actor Stephen. Other victims are still in hospital.

Garum with his dog, Fry
Image:
Garum with his dog, Fry

David Katsarava is in intensive care. He has broken bones, a displaced jaw and several hematoma swellings.

He had been shouting at police in Tuesday’s protests, telling them they were doing Russia’s work, when a well-coordinated snatch squad in riot gear erupted from their ranks and seized him, flanked by two other masked police spraying pepper spray in the face of other non-violent protesters.

‘Bones are badly damaged’

His wife Sophia told Sky News what happened next.

“They made a circle with mainly special forces. And then these people started to beat him, not one or two people, there they were 10, 15 people after this, especially on the face – not on the body or somewhere else – in face, eyes and head especially. They had gloves with metal on. His bones are absolutely damaged.”

Georgian authorities say David’s case is being investigated.

David Katsarava
Image:
David Katsarava

Read more:
Who is the Putin-linked billionaire behind Georgia unrest?
Tense standoff on streets of Tbilisi as protesters try to block MPs

“The Special Investigation Service conducts all necessary investigative and procedural actions to ensure an objective investigation,” they say.

But Sky witnessed many cases of protesters being beaten and opposition groups believe the beatings are intended to intimidate others from protesting.

Pictures of victims have appeared on pro-government media, along with false allegations they are foreign agents and other slurs.

The government says it is also investigating several cases of opposition politicians being attacked by hooded thugs outside their homes in Tbilisi in recent days, reported on Sky earlier this week.

David Katsarava before his injuries
Image:
David Katsarava before his injuries

The victims say they have no doubt the ruling Georgian Dream party is behind the attacks.

From his hospital bed and despite his injuries, David Katsarava asked Sky News to relay this appeal to the outside world.

“I would like to ask you to support us, help us, you see that we are fighting not only against Georgian government this is a Russian government which is supported by the Kremlin,” he said.

“If you will not support us, probably we could lose and this will be a victory of Russia and we have to fight, please help us.”

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