Death of a 36-year-old man, Mamuka Mikautadze, who was found hanged in Tbilisi outskirts a day after he was interrogated in the police over alleged case involving less than 12 grams of marijuana, triggered allegations of possible police mistreatment of the man.
The authorities are facing intense pressure from the rights groups, which are closely monitoring the case, to thoroughly investigate allegations by Mikautadze’s family that he was subjected to mistreatment to force him testify against his friend.
Senior officials from the Georgian Dream coalition have said that they also “have questions” about this case, but called on the watchdog groups not to jump to conclusions.
On July 5 Mamuka Mikautadze was taken into the police custody for the purpose of interrogation as a “witness” into alleged drug-related offense.
Mikautadze’s friend, Gela Manjavidze, was arrested on the same day and charged with possession of up to 12 grams of marijuana, which according to the official investigation, Manjavidze intended to hand over to Mikautadze. Manjavidze, who has been released on bail pending trial, denies charges.
According to accounts of Mikautadze’s wife and several of his friends, after the police questioning Mikautadze told them that he was beaten by the police and forced to give a false testimony against his friend Gela Manjavidze. The testimony, signed by Mikautadze, is one of the key pieces of evidence against Manjavidze; the testimony, according to rights groups monitoring the case, however, contains serious inconsistencies, which question its validity.
Mikautadze’s wife, Zizi Edzgveradze, said that his husband told her after the interrogation that he wanted to kill himself for yielding police pressure and giving false testimony against the friend. On July 6 Mikautadze was found hanged in the vicinity of Tbilisi Sea artificial lake.
Two Tbilisi-based non-governmental organizations, Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI) and the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), have been closely monitoring the case from the very beginning with the latter providing legal service to Mikautadze’s family.
The both groups suspect that Mikautadze’s testimony might have been obtained by the police under duress. They have also criticized the law enforcement agencies for being slow to react to Mikautadze family’s allegations. The groups also say that there were procedural violations as well, including not allowing a lawyer to gain access to detainees for several hours while they were held in the police station and interrogated.
An independent forensic bureau, Vector, which was hired by GYLA, carried out external forensic examination of Mikautadze’s dead body. The examination found that Mikautadze had a bruise at nose caused by impact with blunt object before the death.
“This traumatic injury might have been inflicted in a timeframe in which this case unfolded,” said Alexandre Gejadze, who carried out post mortem external examination; he said that it was not possible to say precisely what caused this injury.
Kakha Kozhoridze, chairman of GYLA, said that although post mortem external examination was not comprehensive, its finding fueled his suspicion that Mikautadze was subjected to duress.
The case of death of Mikautadze is being investigated by the Interior Ministry; police opened an investigation under the article 115 of the criminal code, which deals with alleged cases of bringing a victim to a suicide.
The rights groups, monitoring the case, have called for the case to be referred for investigation to the prosecutor’s office in order to provide more guarantees for impartial probe.
Chief prosecutor, Archil Kbilashvili, said on July 9 that there is no need at this point for the prosecutor’s office to take over the investigation. He also said it’s a matter of “dignity” for the Interior Ministry to investigate this case.
Interior Minister, Irakli Garibashvili, said on July 9 that the investigation was ongoing and “unlike others” he would refrain from making any haste comments or conclusions.
Parliamentary Chairman, Davit Usupashvili, said on July 9 that like many others, he too has “questions about this case.”
“But I don’t have any answers yet and I am waiting for the end of investigation with great interest,” he said. “I would like to address my former colleagues from the civil society that having a principle position on such serious issues should not mean pre-judging and making as many early assumptions as possible. Principled position means to follow the case up to the end, asking questions clearly and in a qualified manner and refraining from making early assumptions and conclusions.”