A screengrab from CCTV footage from the village of Khurcha, which emerged on the internet and was also broadcast by some Georgian television channels, showing the moment when a Georgian citizen was shot dead on May 19, 2016.
Military prosecution service in breakaway Abkhazia said it has filed murder charges against an Abkhaz border guard serviceman, suspected of killing a Georgian citizen on May 19.
Giga Otkhozoria was shot dead on the Georgian-controlled territory at the Khurcha-Nabakevi crossing point between the breakaway Abkhazia and rest of Georgia.
CCTV footage from the scene, which emerged on the internet late on Friday, also broadcast by some Georgian TV channels, shows the moment Otkhozoria, a native of the Gali district who lived in the town of Zugdidi, was shot.
The footage shows Otkhozoria returning back from the crossing point, followed by four men having a verbal argument with him. Otkhozoria stops as his male and female companions try to push him away from the scene, but the four men approach and knock him to the ground, apparently after shooting him; one of attackers with the hood over his head is seen stretching his arm in direction of Otkhozoria’s head, who at the time was already on the ground – the moment when the fatal shot was apparently fired from the point-blank range. After that the four men walk hurriedly back towards the crossing point on the Abkhaz side of the administrative boundary.
The breakaway region’s military prosecution service said in a statement, carried by the Abkhaz news agency Apsnipress late on May 20, that “an incident occurred” between the Abkhaz border guard service members and the Georgian citizen, who was denied entry into Abkhazia on the grounds of not having proper documents.
“The incident grew into a brawl, which then moved on the Georgian side of [the administrative boundary], where, according to existing information, Otkhozoria was killed by shots from firearm,” the Abkhaz military prosecution service said.
It also said that at the next round of the Geneva talks in mid-June the Abkhaz side would request the Georgian authorities to hand over available evidence.
“The Abkhaz investigative agencies are restricted in gathering evidence as the incident took place on the Georgian territory,” it said.
Georgia’s chief prosecutor, Irakli Shotadze, told Imedi TV late on May 20 without elaborating details, that the Georgian law enforcement agencies “have identified the person who committed this murder.”
Next day, on May 21, the Georgian Prosecutor’s Office named the suspect as Rashid Kanji-Ogli, who has been charged with murder. The prosecutor’s office said that it has asked the court to order pre-trial detention for the suspect in absentia.
The EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia (EUMM), which has unarmed monitors on the ground without being able to access the breakaway region, said: “According to a preliminary assessment based on local witnesses, armed security actors from the Abkhaz side of the bridge crossed over to Tbilisi Administered Territory and carried out the shooting… We have been informed that the investigation is ongoing on the both sides of the Administrative Boundary Line.”
The EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia (EUMM) has urged for a prompt and thorough investigation of the case and also called “on all sides to refrain from any actions that could potentially escalate the situation.”
The U.S. embassy in Tbilisi condemned the fatal shooting of the civilian in the village of Khurcha.
In a statement on May 21 the U.S. embassy urged that “a thorough and prompt investigation take place immediately and that those responsible for this tragedy be held accountable.”
“This shooting demonstrates the need for urgent resumption of the Gali Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) as well as for international security arrangements on both sides of the ABL [administrative boundary line],” it said.
Although the Georgian Foreign Ministry did not say in its statement on May 19 that the Russian border guards were involved in the shooting, it said that the responsibility for fatal shooting lies upon the Russian side because it is “in effective control” of Abkhazia.
The Russian Foreign Ministry dismissed the allegation as Tbilisi’s “usual propaganda exercise on the topic of ‘Russian occupation’.”
President Giorgi Margvelashvili said on May 20: “The murder in Khurcha means that one more person has fallen victim to occupation.”
Georgian PM condemned the fatal shooting as an attempt “to obstruct the ongoing processes” of reconciliation.
PM Giorgi Kvirikashvili told journalists on May 20: “It is an appalling fact, a huge tragedy that a person was killed mercilessly on the territory controlled by the Georgian side. It is even a greater tragedy as it is an attempt to obstruct the ongoing processes [of reconciliation] – we are taking certain steps to restore trust between Georgians and Abkhazians, Georgians and Ossetians.”
“I believe that the perpetrator will be punished very strictly. We will involve all our international partners in this case and we will definitely bring it to the end to ensure that the person who committed this terrible crime does not remain unpunished: the PM said.
“I express hope that Abkhazians will view this case as a direct provocation against the processes [of reconciliation]. Although we don’t have a great progress from political point of view, but we do have some progress in people-to-people relations and there is a certain warming; I wish that this progress to continue and that’s why it is extremely important to punish the perpetrators very strictly” he added.
The Georgian State Ministry for Reconciliation and Civic Equality said in a statement on May 20, that the fatal shooting “is a serious challenge to peaceful policy the Georgian government has been pursuing over the past four years.”