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Prosecutor’s Office Persecuted Chechen Refugee without “Good Reason”

27.02.2008
Gela Mtivlishvili, Kakheti

Chechen Refugees living in Pankisi Valley and local Kist population are up in arms in protesting the arbitrary detention of Gia Khangoshvil, a twenty-one-year-old Chechen refugee. Police officers of the Akhmeta Department arrested Khangoshvili in September of 2007. The prosecutor’s office officially blames the detainee for having robbed two Dutch journalists who had arrived in Pankisi Valley to make a film. The Prosecutor’s Office is now demanding an eight-year sentence for Khangoshvili. The accused has not pleaded guilty of having committed the alleged crime and his attorney is now demand that his client be immediately released for a lack of evidence.

Dutch citizens Gijsbert Wassinkmaat and Henk-Yan Van Maanen arrived in Pankisi Valley in May of 2007 to produce a film. They rented a room in the house of Omar Gaurgashvili, a resident of the village of Duisi in the Akhmeta District. On May 2 2007, when the journalists were sleeping a video-camera, a radio microphone, special program for radio and a memory card disappeared from their room. The journalists learned about the robbery only in the next morning.

“When they woke up the equipment was simply not there. They informed us about the incident soon with the support of the interpreter and we reported to the police too. In parallel to it interpreter Ruslan Khangoshvili who is a close person of my family, said that if the stolen items were returned that he was ready to pay 500 USD, as the local tradition demanded,” said Omar Gaurgashvili, who is father of Gia Khangoshvili.

Akhmeta Police Department launched criminal case based on the incident on the same day. Zviad Turkiashvili headed up the investigation. Ruslan Khangoshvili, the interpreter of the victims, explained that in the evening a strange person informed him that the stolen equipment was in the yard of Guram Margoshvili’s house. “We told the investigator information immediately. Police officers searched the yard of Guram Margoshvili and found the stolen items.  Investigator Turkiashvili arrested Gia Khangoshvili and charged him with the thief,” said Ruslan Khangoshvili.

On September 4 2007 Labaza Duishvili, judge at the Akhmeta District Court discussed the case on Gia Khangosvhili; the investigator had requested an extended period of initial detention for the accused. The judge satisfied the demand and sentenced Khangoshvili to two-month preliminary imprisonment.

“Based on testimonies of the victim people, Gijsbert Wassinkmaat and Henk-Yan Van Maanen, search report of the scene of accident and testimonies of the witnesses Guram and Madina Margoshvilis, Gia Khangoshvili had committed the crime. He crept into the room of the guests where they were sleeping and stole their equipment. Consequently, the Dutch citizens suffered a financial loss of 21, 300 Euros. Khangoshvili hid the stolen stuff and later, in order to avoid possible punishment he took the robbed things to the yard of Guram Margoshvili and placed the items in the well that is located there,” said Levan Ghvedashvili, Telavi District Prosecutor.

The attorney of the accused claims that his client is innocent. “Gia Khangoshvili has not committed a crime. He was at his grandmother’s house when the incident occurred which witnesses have also confirmed. Despite that Guram and Madina Margoshvilis, the sister and brother, pointed out in their testimonies that at night of May 2 they saw Gia Khangoshvili get into their yard who was carrying a bag in his hand. It must be pointed out that testimonies made by the two Margoshvilis are aimed at avoiding their own criminal liability. In fact Gia Margoshvili committed the crime but later it was learned that he was in close relations with one of the police officers. Moreover, he might have even been an agent working with the police.  It does seem that the representative of the law and the Margoshvilis have tried to lay blame on a stranger for the crime,” stated Aslan Aslanikashvil, an attorney

Despite several demands the investigation has not interrogated Givi Borchashvili, a resident of Duisi. He claimed that he saw Guram Margoshvili near Omar Gaurgashvili’s house on the night of the robbery. “It was dark but I recognized him; it was Guram Margoshvili. He was carrying two bags,” said Borchashvili.

We tried to interview Margoshvilis several times but to no avail.  Neither did the Prosecutor’s Office have success in managing to bring him to the court hearing. The trial has been postponed for the second time because of his absence. The health conditions of the accused have since worsened. Omar Gaurgashvili, the father of the accused, reported that Gia Khangoshvili was ill before detention too and was using a medical treatment with the support of UN High Commissionaire for Refugees and another organization, “Technical Assistance to Georgia”.

However, he added “Since imprisonment, my son’s health conditions have seriously deteriorated. The Prosecutor’s Office suggested that we enter a guilty pleas and afterwards they would ask for minimal punishment through a plea-bargain agreement. My question is why should my son say he is guilty when his is not?  Gia categorically denies the allegations against him,” said the father of the accused.

Non-governmental organization Human Rights Center became interested in the case on Gia Khangoshvili a short time ago. The lawyers from the center assessed that valid and convincing evidence does not exist in the case against Khanoshvili … and that “Telavi’s Prosecutor’s office persecutes Chechen refugee without any legal grounds,” stated the press-release that was distributed by the Human Rights Center.

Chechen refugees residing in Pankisi Valley as well as the local Kist population are now demanding that Khangoshvili be released. They have also urged international organizations to assist them in this effort. 

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