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Georgian Authorities Under Pressure Over Teen's Death In Pankisi Gorge


Locals protest against the police after the shooting of Temirlan Machalikashvili last month.
Locals protest against the police after the shooting of Temirlan Machalikashvili last month.

TBILISI -- The family of a Georgian teenager who died after being badly injured in what authorities said was a counterterrorist operation in the Pankisi Gorge region is calling for a thorough investigation into the death.

Doctors said 19-year-old Temirlan Machalikashvili died in a Tbilisi hospital early on January 10 after being in a coma for two weeks.

Machalikashvili's mother, Mediko Margoshvili, claimed that her son died after doctors intentionally disconnected him from the life-support system without the family’s permission.

She also said this was done as his son’s possible transfer to a foreign clinic for treatment was being considered.

A leader of the Pankisi Gorge elders, Khaso Khangoshvili, told Georgia's Channel 1 television that people responsible for Machalikashvili’s death must be held accountable.

Machalikashvili was shot in the head during the operation by Georgian security forces on December 26 in the Pankisi Gorge, near the border with Russia's volatile southern republic of Chechnya, and had been in a coma since. Several other residents of Pankisi Gorge, which is home to Muslims with ethnic ties to Chechens, were arrested in the sweep.

Security officials have said officers shot Machalikashvili because he intended to throw a grenade at security troops. But relatives and friends say he was lying in bed holding a mobile phone, not a grenade, when he was shot.

They contend he was not a militant and had no ties with any suspected terrorists.

On December 27, following protests in the Pankisi Gorge, Georgian prosecutors launched an investigation to determine whether excessive force was used during the security operation.

Georgia's Ombudswoman Nino Lomjaria said on January 10 that she will do everything to find the truth about the teenager’s death.

"As the ombudswoman, I promise I will use all my abilities to find out if excessive force had been used during the special operation, necessary medical service was provided in a timely fashion, and everything was done to save his life," Lomjaria said.

Machalikashvili's death came a day after security forces held another counterterrorist operation in the Pankisi Gorge and detained a local resident, Zurab Idoidze, on suspicion of assisting a terrorist group.

Chechnya was the site of two post-Soviet separatist wars and an Islamist insurgency that spread to other parts of Russia's mostly Muslim North Caucasus.