Interior ministry, protesters demanding more liberal drug policy agree on ‘key issue’

  • The meeting between the protesters and the interior minister came after large-scale rallies on Rustaveli Avenue on 12 - 13 May. Photo: Interior Ministry press office., 14 May 2018 - 15:26, Tbilisi,Georgia

The Georgian Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia stated today after his meeting with the organisers of the large-scale rally on Rustaveli Avenue on 12-13 May that an agreement has been achieved on a "top issue.”

We have agreed that drug dealing and drug dealers are our common problem and when the Interior Ministry has a reasonable doubt over alleged illegalities, no one has the right to hinder police actions,” Gakharia said.

The minister stated that the raid in nightclubs on May 12 came after 48 cases of drug intoxication of clubbers over the past two weeks.

We also have 20 video clips of selling drugs in clubs. We were forced to raid the clubs,” Gakharia stated.

Protesters say they will renew rallies if their demands are not fulfilled. Photo: Interior Ministry press office. 

The minister said that two working groups will be created. One group will work on the draft of a drug policy and another on the police raid and whether law enforcers exceeded their powers or not.

The public defender has not confirmed even one case of exceeding of power by police on May 12. However, we are ready to provide all video materials of the raid and police actions out of the clubs territory,” Gakharia stated.

The Georgian Public Defender Nino Lomjaria confirmed the minister’s words over the agreement and the working groups and told the organisers of the rally to appeal to her office over concrete instances of police using excessive force. 

We are ready to study each case. The Interior Ministry promised that that they will provide all the necessary materials,” Lomjaria said.

The public defender stated that the police had a "legitimate right” to raid the clubs, as they had a relevant permit from the court.

One of the organizers of the rally, a leader of the White Noise Movement,  Beka Tsikarishvili stated after the meeting with Gakharia that they are against drug dealing and reiterated that they demand a liberal drug policy for drug consumers.

He stated that the representation of the people supporting a liberal drug policy will be larger at the following meeting with the interior ministry staff, to lobby for the draft which will protect drug consumers.

Rally on Rustaveli Avenue. Photo: N.Alavidze/ 

Chronology of events

  • Police raided two nightclubs - Bassiani and Cafe Gallery - in Central Tbilisi at 12:30 a.m. During and before the raid police detained 8 alleged drug dealers. One of the detainees was a club guard, as the ministry announced.
  • The detainees have been charged for possession and sale of drugs in especially large quantities, which is punishable by 8-20 years in prison.
  • The same day, on May 12, large-scale rallies kicked off in front of the parliament building in Tbilisi with the slogan "For Our Freedom,” protesting the raid in nightclubs, accusing the police of using excessive force and demanding a change of the state drug policy. They also demanded the resignation of the prime minister and interior minister.
  • Nationalists groups organized a counter-rally on Rustaveli Avenue on May 13, which made the situation tense.
  • Late on May 13 the Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili addressed protesters and called on police to increase measures for ensuring the safety of protesters at Rustaveli Avenue.
  • The same night Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia arrived at the rally and offered an apology if any law enforcer created a safety threat to any individual during and after the raid. However, he called on the protesters to also ask pardon from police employees if they also acted inappropriately. The minister stated that the ministry will work with protesters over the country’s new drug policy and announced the meeting on the next day.
  • Protesters stated that they will renew rallies if the government fails to keep its promise and take no genuine steps for decriminalization of drug consumption.
  • The ruling party members, part of the opposition and experts stated that minister Gakharia took a right step and managed to de-escalate the situation, while another part says that the government will not change its attitude to drug policy.
  • The Georgian Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze stated that a draft on drug policy will be prepared in the course of the following two weeks.