InterPressNews agency photo of the clash at Tbilisi police headquarters
on June 15.
Police, some in plain cloths and in masks, armed with batons attacked dozens of protesters from the youth pro-opposition groups, which were rallying outside the Tbilisi police headquarters on June 15, witnesses said.
Activists were protesting against the arrest of six protesters, who were sentenced in connection with the June 12 incident outside the Parliament.
Initially the Interior Ministry said in a written statement that “the opposition supporters blocked the main entrance and the road. Police tried to unblock the entrance and the road, while the protesters resisted police officers. Police arrested the protesters during resistance”.
But eyewitnesses, including a Reuters photographer, told Civil.Ge that about 50 protesters were not blocking the street and were standing in line at a sidewalk on the opposite side of a small street at the main entrance of the Tbilisi police headquarters. He also said that the police had seized cameras from journalists. Another photographer, Zurab Kurtsikidze from European Pressphoto Agency (epa), who was also there, was beaten; he had bruises on his head and back. A cameraman for the Tbilisi-based Gevision.tv website was also beaten, according to the website.
Zurab Abashidze, a close ally of Irakli Alasania, leader of Alliance for Georgia, was among those protesters beaten by the police. Abashidze has been hospitalized with multiple injuries in his head and with broken nose, according to a doctor treating the opposition politician.
Maestro TV and Kavkasia TV, two Tbilisi-based television stations, also said that their crews on the ground were attacked during the incident. Both television stations have ceased airing their usual programming in protest. “In protest against violence against our journalists at the Tbilisi police headquarters today, Maestro TV and Kavkasia TV stop broadcasting,” a written statement which is aired on the both televisions instead of their usual programming reads.
Few hours later Eka Zguladze, the deputy interior minister, said that although about 100 protesters were blocking the street, the police would not have intervened. She, however, said that the police decided to take actions after the law enforcement officers identified among protesters three persons wanted in connection with the June 12 incident outside the Parliament.
She said that when the police tried to arrest three wanted activists, protesters resisted which grew into the clash.
The Deputy Interior Minister also said that total of 39 protesters were arrested.
She said that the Interior Ministry would request the court to fine and release most of the arrested activists. But in several cases the Interior Ministry would seek sending of some activists to jail for a month, she added.
Zguladze has acknowledged that it was the police “mistake” that several journalists were injured and impeded to perform their professional duties during the clash.
“We regret and apologize for that… This is our mistake and we acknowledge it,” Eka Zguladze, the deputy interior minister, said. “The Interior Ministry will spare no efforts not to repeat the same in the future.”
Eka Zguladze said that the police had returned all the equipment seized from journalists.
Reuters correspondent in Tbilisi has confirmed that photo camera had been returned by the police. Davit Akubardia, head of the Kavkasia TV, told Civil.ge that the police had returned the television stations video camera, but it was broken and Maestro TV has also confirmed that it video camera was returned.
President Saakashvili said at a meeting with lawmakers from the ruling party on Monday evening that protesters “blocked the street” outside the Tbilisi police headquarters.
“No one in the world is protesting outside the police station,” he said and added that he had requested the Interior Ministry to return the equipment to journalists, which was seized as a result of “misunderstanding”.