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Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili made the headlines last week after clashing with a well-known TV personality. (file photo)

A public altercation last week between Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili and TV personality Gia Gachechiladze (aka Utsnobi) has given rise to widespread speculation that Kvirikashvili may step down, followed by multiple denials from coalition colleagues.

First Deputy Parliament Chairman Tamar Chugoshvili ruled out Kvirikashvili's exit on December 18 at the start of debates on the composition of the new cabinet that the prime minister proposed last month.

Both Chugoshvili and other senior Georgian Dream lawmakers have similarly denied any connection between Kvirikashvili's response to Gachechiladze's allegations of government corruption and the announcement on December 15 of the planned formation of two new factions within Georgian Dream's 115-member parliament majority.

Gachechiladze went public with his allegations at a specially convened press conference on December 12. He claimed that the government unfairly favored a company owned by outgoing Sports Minister Tariel Khechikashvili that was awarded a government contract to supply the Health Ministry with ambulances in a tender in which the Citroen subsidy in Georgia, which belongs to one of Gachechiladze's relatives by marriage, also participated. He said he appealed to Kvirikashvili, as an old friend, to intervene, whereupon the prime minister advised him to take legal action or lodge a formal complaint with the relevant government agency.

'Taking Advantage'

Gachechiladze was quoted on December 17 by Tabula.ge as suggesting unnamed government officials may have taken advantage of Kvirikashvili's trusting nature to engage in unlawful machinations behind his back. That news portal further divulged that since May 2015, companies owned by Khechikashvili have won tenders worth 23.5 million laris ($9.34 million) to supply the Georgian government with 502 vehicles.

Kvirikashvili publicly rejected the allegation of malpractice as untrue, saying that the tender was conducted strictly within the framework of the law. He added that if the allegation of foul play was nonetheless proven true, he was ready to resign, but that if it were not, he expects a formal apology from Gachechiladze, Interpressnews.ge reported.

As for the announcement that two new factions will be established within Georgian Dream's parliament majority, parliamentary chairman Irakli Kobakhidze rejected on December 16 as unfounded speculation that it reflected internal disagreements within the majority. Kobakhidze said discussions on establishing the new factions had begun prior to the end of the autumn parliament session, and that the objective was to improve internal management and coordination.

At present the majority comprises five small factions of five-to-six people, several of which (the Industrialists, the Conservatives) represent parties that aligned with Georgian Dream to contest the 2012 parliamentary election, plus an 86-member Georgian Dream faction headed by Mamuka Mdinaradze, who described that numerical disparity as "not the best foundation for management."

'Amendments To The Amendments'

One of the new factions will be headed by Bidzina Gegidze, who likewise denied any connection between their creation and the stand-off between Kvirikashvili and Gachechiladze.

A second prominent Georgian Dream faction member, lawyer Eka Beselia, argued that membership in small factions gives lawmakers a greater chance to participate in the work of the legislature. She further noted that Kvirikashvili's blessing for the establishment of the new factions is required in his capacity as Georgian Dream chairman.

Nonetheless, it became clear that there are differences of opinion within the Georgian Dream parliament majority during the vote on December 16 in the second reading on tweaking the constitutional amendments passed in October. The text of the "amendments to the amendments" had been changed after the first reading the previous day to broaden and enumerate the grounds on which public access to official documents may be restricted, Civil.ge reported.

First deputy parliament chairman Chugoshvili was one of several Georgian Dream lawmakers who criticized that new wording, declaring that "excess transparency has never caused a problem in this country; what created problems was excess secrecy." Those reservations did not, however, prevent the entire 115-majority voting for the bill.

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.
Murtazali Gasanguseynov says he will continue the fight to clear his sons’ good name but doubts their killers will be brought to trial. 

Reports of seemingly arbitrary shootings by security personnel of unarmed, law-abiding young men who are subsequently branded Islamic militants on the basis of what critics claim is fabricated evidence have become commonplace in the North Caucasus over the past 10 to 15 years.

Despite repeated statements of concern by organizations like Amnesty International and the International Crisis Group (ICG), most such cases never come to court, even if a formal investigation is undertaken.

But the killing in August 2016 of two teenage brothers by security personnel, who claimed they were armed insurgents who resisted arrest, may prove an exception.

Fifteen months after the event, Daghestani investigators have finally opened a criminal case into their deaths. Whether the investigation is in response to a formal appeal lodged two days earlier by the young men’s father with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) or part of the broader probe by acting Republic of Daghestan head Vladimir Vasilyev of suspected abuses by law enforcement organs to which predecessor Ramazan Abdulatipov apparently turned a blind eye is not yet clear.

As pieced together from statements by local residents, the circumstances of the death of Gasanguseyn Gasanguseynov, who was 19 at the time he died, and his brother Nabi, who was two years younger, were as follows:

The two young men lived with their parents in the small mountain village of Goor-Khindakh, some 120 kilometers southwest of Makhachkala. They eked out a living from watching over fellow villagers’ sheep. There was no record of insurgent activity in the village.

Late on August 23, 2016, they phoned their mother to tell her the flock had been penned for the night and they were on their way home for supper, but they never arrived. Their bodies were found the following morning by a fellow herdsman. Both had been shot several times. They were wearing winter anoraks that relatives said did not belong to them and had automatic rifles slung around their necks, but the weapons had not been fired in the previous 24 hours.

According to their father, Murtazali Gasanguseynov, a police expert who examined the bodies pointed out that the holes in the fabric of the anoraks did not correspond to the location of the bullet wounds. That expert concluded that the men had been shot by military personnel.

Daghestani security forces, however, insisted that the brothers were Islamic militants who had refused to produce identification when asked and then opened fire on law enforcement personnel. Possibly for that reason, the police initially refused to hand over the bodies to the family for burial and relented only after irate villagers temporarily blocked two local highways. The villagers assert unanimously that the young Gasanguseynovs were not Islamic radicals but professed the strain of Sufi Islam endorsed by Daghestan’s official clergy.

The identity of the two brothers' killer or killers remains unclear. The news portal Caucasian Knot initially quoted an unnamed local police officer as saying that even though no formal counterterror operation had been announced, security personnel from elsewhere in Daghestan had been combing the district on the night the brothers died.

In February, however, the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta published an official Daghestani Interior Ministry document, according to which the Daghestani Interior Ministry’s Counterextremism Center conducted a special operation on August 23 in the vicinity of Goor-Khindakh jointly with the Federal Security Service (FSB). The paper further quoted the deputy head of the FSB Directorate for Daghestan as denying that any such operation took place.

Villagers suspect the perpetrators were local police officers who had been seen in the village on the evening prior to the killings and spent the night in the local mosque.The killings triggered a wave of outrage across Daghestan. Within days, the residents of Goor-Khindakh addressed an open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s Prosecutor-General's Office and Investigative Committee stressing that there was no evidence to support the official claim that the young men were Islamic militants and demanding that those who killed them be held criminally responsible. Republic of Daghestan head Abdulatipov responded with a brief statement stressing that the republican prosecutor had launched an investigation and advocating patience until the findings became known. Meanwhile Maksim Shevchenko, a member of Putin’s Human Rights Council who had been refused registration to run in the State Duma elections as a candidate for Daghestan, traveled to Goor-Khindakh to meet with the brothers’ parents and publicly endorsed the villagers’ version of what had happened.

As of mid-November, the criminal investigation into the alleged attack by the young men on law enforcement personnel had been transferred from the local investigator’s office to that of Eduard Kaburneyev, the federal investigator for Daghestan. Members of a support group established to help the Gasanguseynov family’s lawyer establish the brothers’ innocence were reportedly being subjected to constant pressure.

In late February, the Gasanguseynovs appealed for help to the Moscow-based human rights watchdog Memorial, but Bagrat Safaraliyev, the investigator responsible, refused to grant the lawyers tasked by Memorial to represent the Gasanguseynov family access to the case materials, the independent weekly Chernovik reported on March 17.

At that juncture, Murtazali Gasanguseynov filed a formal complaint against the republican investigators’ perceived failure to make any effort to clarify the circumstances of his sons’ deaths. A Makhachkala district court found that complaint justified and demanded action by the prosecutor’s office, according to Chernovik on March 23. The court also upheld the legal right of Gasanguseynov and his lawyers to the case materials, according to Caucasian Knot on April 3.

Although Daghestan’s Supreme Court upheld that ruling, Gasanguseynov never received formal notification that a criminal case had been launched, and in early November 2017 he addressed a formal complaint to that effect to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Days later, the original investigation into the alleged attack by the brothers on law enforcement personnel was closed and a new case opened into the killing of the two young men by unknown individuals, Murad Magomedov, a lawyer for Memorial, announced on November 27.

Speaking on November 29 at a press conference in Makhachkala convened by Magomedov, Murtazali Gasanguseynov again expressed his conviction that his sons were killed deliberately in retaliation for the shooting of a local judge several weeks earlier and that the organizer was the acting local police chief, who was subsequently confirmed in that post. Caucasian Knot quoted Gasanguseynov as saying he will continue the fight to clear his sons’ good name but doubts their killers will be brought to trial.

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.

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About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.

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