Why I skipped the parade in Tbilisi

The worst part about plastic handcuffs is that they jab into hands with every wrong move, and if they are extremely tight, this torture becomes almost unbearable. Your hands turn blue and start to go numb. I spent more than five hours in a police precinct on the outskirts of Tbilisi where they use these handcuffs.

The beaten and bloodied Georgian citizens who were also detained when an opposition rally in Tbilisi was broken up were released a bit earlier. Several local television journalists and I must have been left for dessert.  

The second part of the The Good Soldier Švejk by Jaroslav Hašek is called “Ceremonial Beating.” For Thursday night, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili prepared a beating for oppositionists who had set up camp in front of the parliament and refused to join the military parade. 

The demonstrators were attacked with truncheons, gas, rubber bullets and other favorites of riot police. I’ve been to Tbilisi for four times, but this was the first time I got to see the city’s special police forces at work. I was extremely lucky to get a firsthand look at what they are capable of. What can I say? They work as a team. The police and special forces cleared Rustaveli Prospekt in some 20-30 minutes by squeezing the protesters as if in a vice, forcing them out of either end. Some managed to flee, some were forced out to Freedom Square where they were quickly thrown into buses and carted off. I found out later where they were taken.  

As all the roads around Rustaveli Prospekt were blocked off, I had to take the long way to get to Freedom Square, and then from there go to the monument to St. George. I noticed about six or seven ambulances on the square and cars with flashers speeding by. There were no demonstrators in sight, only rows of police officers in helmets lining the streets.

Russian was to blame

I have no idea why I drew the attention of the special forces. Perhaps it was the fact that I was speaking Russian. As soon as one of them heard me speaking on the phone, he grabbed me and dragged me to the police cars. I said that I was a Russian journalist but this only made him more aggressive.

He kicked me to the ground and hit me on the head with his club. I asked why he was hitting me, and said that I had done nothing wrong. To which the Georgian officer responded: “When our guys were in Ossetia, I suppose you didn’t do aything wrong there either you son of a bitch.”

After that I was kicked down to the ground again and then kicked in the head repeatedly by two officers. I tried to protect my head with my hands, but I let one kick through. Then the officers hit me in the back with their clubs several time, twisted my arms behind me and then pushed me into a police car.

It was discovered later thaat several other photojournalists were also beaten, including Dmitry Lebedev from Kommersant.

Perhaps the reason for the violence was that one of the demonstrators tried to drive through the police cordon and hit one of the policemen. But I only learned about this the morning after.

Beaten and treated

Wounded and exhausted protesters, many of them with bad head injuries, were continuously brough into the police department for hours after the rally was broken up.

I saw elderly people being carried out on stretchers from the police building. Apparently they were being taken to the emergency room. Police beat anyone who did not remain calm.

It should be noted that there were medics in the building treating the injured.

The police did not interrogate detainees. They only made lists with information about them. They let them go early the next morning. 

I was released at about six o’clock in the morning – gentle police officers even provided a bus to take the detainees home. A bus took me back to the centre of Tbilisi and Rustaveli Prospekt, where I saw armoured vehicles and howitzers decorated for the ceremonial parade.

I decided not to attend the parade, as I had already seen the main attraction – a show of police and of Georgian democracy at work.

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