Opposition blocks off Rustaveli Avenue following UNM chair Melia’s arrest

  • Opposition says that rallies will continue. Photo: Nino Alavidze/Agenda.ge.

Agenda.ge, 23 Feb 2021 - 17:42, Tbilisi,Georgia

Opposition parties and their supporters have blocked off central Rustaveli Avenue earlier today, following the recent arrest of the head of the United National Movement (UNM) opposition party Nika Melia.

Melia, who is charged with incitement to violence during the June protests in Tbilisi back in 2019, has been arrested for refusal to post bail. 

Demonstrators initially gathered at the administrative building of the government of Georgia for an ‘anti-government’ rally at 15:00 and then moved to the parliament building on Rustaveli Avenue where they opened tents. 

They are demanding the release of Melia and repeat parliamentary elections. 

Opposition leaders have stated that a march and a large-scale rally will take place on February 26 at 15:00 on Rustaveli Avenue. 

Oppostion has opened tents in front of the parliament bulding. Photo: Nino Alavidze/Agenda.ge. 

Foreign embassies and diplomats have stated that Melia’s arrest would deepen political tension in the country. 

Georgian top officials and the ruling Georgian Dream party responded that ‘everyone is equal before the law’ and that the ‘law must be enforced.’ 

A decrease of polarisation in the country is unlikely without the rule of law,” the head of the Georgian Dream ruling party Irakli Kobakhidze said, adding that ‘polarisation is triggered by the presence of criminals in politics not by the presence of politicians in prison.’ 

He said that the previous years have shown that the government’s ‘loyal attitude to criminals in politics (like Melia, Saakashvili, Mamuka Khazaradze, Gigi Ugulava and others) have not decreased polarisation.’ 

What is the case about?

Melia is charged with incitement to violence during the June protests in Tbilisi back in 2019 which were sparked by the presence of Russian MPs in the Georgian parliament. 

Opposition parties say that the October 31, 2020 elections were fabricated and have been demanding repeat parliamentary elections since November 2020. Photo: Nino Alavidze/Agenda.ge. 

He was released on 30,000 GEL bail on June 27, 2020.

However, Melia violated the conditions of his bail by publicly removing his surveillance bracelet and 40,000 GEL was added to his bail in November 2020. 

Melia has refused to pay the 40,000 GEL bail (within 50 days of sentencing) and on February 5, 2021 the Georgian Chief Prosecutor’s Office warned him of the possibility of his bail conditions being reversed to detention. 

On February 16 The Georgian Parliament suspended the MP status of Melia and allowed the country’s Prosecutor’s Office to request his arrest by the court. 

On February 17 Tbilisi City Court ruled that Melia be remanded into custody for failure to post bail. 

On February 18 Georgian PM Giorgi Gakharia resigned ‘because he failed to make an agreement with the ruling Georgian Georgian Dream party over the arrest of Melia.’ 

The ruling party confirmed the disagreement and said that law should have been enforced. 

Melia was arrested shortly after the parliament approved the new prime minister and his cabinet on February 22.