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Former Marneuli Mayor acquitted of inhumane and degrading treatment

13 February 2020
Temur Abazov. Photo: Netgazeti.

The former mayor of Marneuli, Temur Abazov, has been found not guilty of inhumane and degrading treatment. Abazov was charged in June 2018 after videos were posted on Facebook appearing to show a man being forced to wipe urine on his face and apologise for insulting officials from the ruling Georgian Dream party.

Abazov was later also charged with violating personal information and privacy laws. According to his lawyer, the prosecution accused him of sharing information about the victim on Facebook. 

The Prosecutor’s Office said they would appeal the decision.

Abazov stepped down as Mayor of Marneuli, a town in southern Georgia a year ago, after being charged. He was initially placed in pre-trial detention but six months later was released on ₾10,000 ($3,500) bail. 

In November 2019, he was appointed vice-president of the Georgian Powerlifting Federation, a state funded body. He unsuccessfully appealed for ₾32,000 ($11,000) in compensation from the Marneuli Mayor’s Office for lost earnings while he was in pre-trial detention. 

[Read more about Abazov’s case: Marneuli mayor and MP charged with inhuman treatment and assault]

According to Tabula, Abazov previously served as a bodyguard to Georgian Dream Party chair Bidzina Ivanishvili, when Ivanishvili was Prime Minister. On Thursday Tabula published an official document dated 11 February 2013 concerning a visit by  Ivanishvili to Ankara. 

In it, Abazov is listed as a member of the delegation and is labeled as a security officer. Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri was also listed as the deputy head of Ivanishvili’s guard. 

Abazov later told Tabula that he was not a permanent bodyguard to Ivanishvili but went with him as a guard only once. 

Abazov was arrested after Georgian Investigative outlet Studio Monitori and local radio Marneuli broke the story. Before his arrest, Abazov insisted he had nothing to do with the victim and had not seen the video. 

After the judgment was announced by the Rustavi City Court on 12 February, Abazov told TV Pirveli that the person featured in the video was ‘a person of interest’ who was ‘used’.

‘His allegation that I beat him was not confirmed [by the court] either. He had told several witnesses, his neighbours, that he didn’t wipe his own urine on his face […]’, said Abazov, adding that it was beer in the video. 

His lawyer, Gagi Mosiashvili, told news agency IPN that over 100 witnesses were questioned and none of them confirmed that Abazov or the other three people charged in the case participated in the incident. All four were acquitted by the court. 

According to local rights group the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), which represented the interests of the victim, ‘the court encouraged the dangerous practice of degrading treatment with this acquittal, which came despite enough evidence being filed in the case’.

GYLA said the evidence included urine samples found in the cup as well as witness testimony.

The group also criticised the decision by prosecutors to drop the charges of violating personal information and privacy laws. 

They said that the prosecutors’ argument that this was done because it was partially included in the original charges of inhumane and degrading treatment ‘does not correspond to current legislation or legal practices’. 

The case against Abazov

In the video that led to Abazov’s prosecution, a man is seen appearing to wipe his own urine on his face and apologise for insulting ruling party officials. 

It was alleged he was forced to do so after a video showing the victim attending a demonstration in front of Tbilisi’s Parliament building in support of Zaza Saralidze, the father of one of two teenagers killed outside a school in the Khorava Street murders was posted on Facebook.

[Read more about Khorava Street Murder and following demonstrations on OC Media: Protest leaders detained in Georgia

‘Fuck 41, do not vote for 41, only 5, we should bring back 5’, the man is heard saying at the rally. Forty-one is the election number of Georgian Dream, while five is the number for the UNM. Later in the video, he insults Mayor Abazov, Georgian Dream’s leader Bidzina Ivanishvili, and their wives.

Another video was later posted on Facebook showing the same man apologising to members of Georgian Dream. In the video, the man is seen speaking into his phone and being urged to apologise to Georgian Dream. A separate video shows him holding a cup full of what he describes as urine.

‘What are you going to do with that piss? You have no dignity’, a man is heard telling him, after which the victim rubs the liquid on his face.

Georgian Investigative outlet Studio Monitori, who broke the story, reported that there were allegations the man was pressured by Abazov and other local Georgian Dream officials. Abazov denied the allegations to Studio Monitori at the time.

‘I have no knowledge of such a case and I haven’t seen the video. I don’t know this person. And I’m happy not to be aware of such a thing and not to have seen it, if such a thing really happened’, Abazov said.

When offered to be shown the video, he said he did not want to as he was working and ‘it would be unpleasant to watch’.

The Prosecutor’s Office announced at a press briefing that a criminal investigation had been launched against four people. The investigation details suggest that the evening after the rally, the victim was contacted by UNM member Ramin Asakov, who said they should meet at the local UNM office in Marneuli.

Upon arriving at the office, the victim was reportedly met by UNM MP Azer Suleimanov, Marneuli City Council member Ramin Alakhverdiev, and others.

‘MP Azer Suleymanov asked [the man] to explain who ordered him to make the live video, after which Azer Suleimanov, Ramin Alakhverdiev and citizen E.G. (a relative of Abazov) beat him’, says the Prosecutor’s statement.

According to the investigation, the victim was then taken by Georgian Dream city council members Jeikhun Choidarov and Ramin Alakhverdiev near a local restaurant, where Marneuli Mayor Temur Abazov was waiting for him.

‘Upon his arrival, Temur Abazov spat in [the victim’s] face and beat him. Than he made him go live on Facebook to apologise and insult his own wife. Eventually, Marneuli Mayor Temur Abazov forcefully made [the victim] urinate in a cup and wash his face off with the urine’, the prosecutor’s statement reads.

Suleimanov told Netgazeti at the time that even though he had met the man, he was not involved in beating him. ‘This is blackmail, a provocation against me’, he said, adding that the victim was a Georgian Dream activist.

He said he had asked the man why he would make such a statement given that he ‘was a Georgian Dream activist’. ‘Nobody beat him there. I don’t know what happened later’, he told Netgazeti.