Accessibility links

Breaking News

In Georgia, Soccer Fun Leads To Probe After Attack On Black Students

A screen grab from a video showing a number of white men confronting and attacking black students outside a sports field in Tbilisi's Digomi neighborhood on April 8.

What started out as a friendly game of soccer among students in the Georgian capital has escalated into a criminal investigation of a possible hate crime after a group of white men attacked black students leaving the pitch.

Georgia's Interior Ministry said on April 9 that the investigation began after video of the violence appeared on Facebook.

Videos show a number of white men confronting and attacking black students outside a sports field in Tbilisi's Digomi neighborhood on April 8. One student said he was threatened with a gun during the incident.

"We were playing at the stadium when some Georgian men approached us and told us to leave," said Ben Zieg, one of the young black men, who told RFE/RL's Georgian Service that he attends New Vision University in Tbilisi.

One of those injured in the attack was Nigerian. It was not clear whether any of the other students at the scene were Georgian nationals, or if all were foreign students studying in the country.

"When we asked for a reason, they said we had no right to be in the stadium or the country because we were black. Then a whole group of men came at us with batons and stones," Zieg said. "Someone ran out and threatened to kill us if we did not leave the country."

Though Georgia has made some progress on antidiscrimination policies and legislation, hate speech and violence against some ethnic and religious minorities, as well as LGBT people, have increased in recent years.

Zieg said police were called to the scene of the attack but no one was detained even though officers were shown the video.

Another student purportedly involved in the clash told the news website that police told the students to forget about the incident and go on with their lives.

Georgian police have come under criticism for allegedly failing to follow through on complaints of racial discrimination.

Ucha Nanuashvili, Georgia's former public defender who also headed the Human Rights Center, told RFE/RL after viewing the video that it appeared to be a hate crime and not a usual "domestic violence incident."

But authorities said the investigation was launched under Article 126 of the Criminal Code, which deals with criminal violence. Police could have opted to use Article 142, which addresses discrimination on racial grounds.

"Regrettably, very often the response by police in such cases is inadequate. During my tenure as public defender, there were many similar cases, but the problem was categorizing them correctly," he said.

Zieg said some of the students now fear reprisals.

After the video footage was published, some social media users with Georgian profiles have sent threatening and racist messages.

"What would happen if Georgians were beaten by the blacks? Would the police look differently at the situation?" said Zieg. "We will fight against this racism. In the 21st century? It’s just not understandable. This must stop!"

The Georgian Public Defender's Office says hate crime statistics have only been collected by Georgian prosecutors since 2016, although antidiscrimination legislation was passed in mid-2014.