Spontaneous protests erupted in Georgia’s Black Sea city of Batumi in the evening of March 11th, after two individuals were arrested for resisting police after they were fined for blocking the street with their car. The protesters gathered at Batumi Plaza and were demanding for the detained men to be freed, and said that police used force against the two men. A simultaneous riot took place outside the main police department of Adjara. Police used tear gas after protesters started throwing stones at special ops.
After almost 12 hours, the situation stabilized in the early hours of March 12th, when the rioters dispersed. According to official information around 30 people have been hospitalized, including police officers injured in the protest. More than 20 individuals were arrested. The rioters damaged police cars and cars parked nearby.
Members of the government and opposition parties expressed their concern over the violence and aggression shown during the riot. Ombudsman Ucha Nanuashvili stated that “the events on March 11th surpassed what is freedom of protest and freedom of speech, and turned into fighting, with possible indicators of crime or administrative offences.”
President Giorgi Margvelashvili issued an official statement regarding the incident: “We believe that the freedom of assembly and expression of the citizens should be protected; however, at the same time, we must respect the state institutions and the law, according to which any form of violence is inadmissible. . .I call on the Government to protect the freedom of expression of each citizen and I call on the public to respect the state institutions, because only through such attitude we can build a strong, democratic, and free country.”
Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili suggested that the political opposition had a role in the riot: “The country has the kind of government which defends the rule of law and the stability and rights of our citizens. The country also has a [political] opposition which is absolutely destructive and doesn’t care about the country’s stability or the right of our citizens to live in a peaceful country. They will use the most tender feelings to achieve their political aims.”
The prime minister said later in the day that the vandals should be punished as well as the forces that were behind them and encouraging them to riot.
The opposition United National Movement, which was the ruling party in Georgia from 2004-2012, responded to the prime minister that their party “is the party which created the patrol police and which built the city of Batumi. We won’t ever accept accusations.. that we would damage something that was created by us.” The UNM continued that they would not “accept” this rhetoric “from a representatives of betrayer [former Prime Minister Bidzina] Ivanishvili’s regime.”
The Movement for Liberty - European Georgia party shared an official statement stating that the riot “hinders our democratic progress and undermines the freedom of assembly in a peaceful manner, which is one of the most legitimate instruments for fighting against the government. Yesterday’s violence and the government’s inadequate response, in some cases the unknowing use of power and mostly inaction, is the result of Ivanishvili’s five years of rule.”
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, seven out of 40 detained individuals were sentenced to administrative jail by Batumi City Court; the others were freed. An investigation started according to articles on mass disorderliness and attack on policeman or a public space.