Varlam Goletiani, the head of the "Save Rioni Gorge" movement and 10 other protesters arrested with him, were released from the Tbilisi City Court. The judge satisfied the motion of the lawyers to postpone the trial. Consideration of cases will begin on November 29-30.
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"There was no overreaction on our part. They want to twist our arms. The protest continues. This exemption is temporary. The real result will be revealed on the 29th. We will continue our protest outside the Ministry building. If we are not given the opportunity to fight fairly, whether it is pitching a tent or something else, we will try to make a living corridor in any weather," said Varlam Goletiani after his release.
The police arrested the activists of Save Rioni Gorge and the journalist of the online platform Broadcaster Rati Ratiani, 11 people in total, on the evening of November 18, in Tbilisi, by the building of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs charged them with petty hooliganism and disobedience to the police.
Activists of Save Rioni Gorge came to Tbilisi from Racha, where they have been holding protests for two months demanding the cancellation of the license issued to lease the forests of Racha and Kvemo Svaneti. In March of last year, the government, in complete secrecy from the public, handed over 104,712 hectares of forest located in Racha and Kvemo Svaneti for 49 years to the company of the partner of the sanctioned Russian oligarch, David Khidasheli. According to the terms of the license, Khidasheli had to organize game farming in these forests. The journalistic investigation by Mountain Stories showed that the transfer of forests was done in violation of many laws. The forests transferred to Khidasheli include the areas around 81 Racha and 2 Kvemo Svaneti villages. In order to fulfill this intention, the government also forged documents.
The organizers of the protest wanted to set up a tent in the yard of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture, but the police did not allow them. After that, the activists decided to set up a tent near the fence of the ministry, but the policemen took away the construction and broke it. The protesters then tried to block part of the highway, at which point they were arrested by the officers. According to Maka Suladze, an activist of the movement,
the policemen dragged her, inflicting light injuries on her body, and another woman activist had her tooth broken.
Lawyers and a representative of the public defender met the detainees in the temporary detention centers of Tbilisi and Rustavi yesterday. The exact location of the detainees was unknown for several hours.
The Office of the Public Defender started studying the issue of the legality of arresting the protesters with the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture. The Public Defender called on the Special Investigation Service to respond appropriately to the fact of interference in journalistic activity.
The protest outside the Ministry building continues.
"There is nothing to protest, as we explained to the participants of the rally - we met in Racha, we also sent information in writing about the license cancellation, and spread information through the media", - says the statement by the Ministry of Environmental Protection regarding the protest.
"That the forest in Racha was being sold is a lie. The license did not mean the sale of the forest, but the establishment of a hunting farm with an investment of more than 5 million GEL for the development of the region and for creating jobs for the local population. As for revoking the license - due to non-fulfillment of the license conditions, we started the cancelation process in May of this year. The issue of declaring the hunting license invalid will be discussed in accordance with the law in the relevant time frame. As for the possible sale or alienation of the license, that's a different matter altogether. The license cannot be sold or gifted without an agreement with the National Environmental Agency. So far, no one has contacted the agency. The decisions made in the process of administrative proceedings will be notified to the public step by step," the ministry said in a statement,’’ said the statement.
On November 15, David Khidasheli announced that he was leaving the game farming business in Georgia, and has sold the company - HG Capra Caukasika LLC and, by extension, the license obtained for Racha and Kvemo Svaneti forests. "The contract is already being signed and in the next week it will become known that one of the stakeholders is involved with hunting farms in Spain; another Georgian company will also become a shareholder. If they don’t care for my investments, so be it. Many other countries will accept my investments with open arms,'' said Khidasheli.
Non-governmental organizations Green Alternative and Racha community organization have appealed the decision to grant a license to Khidasheli in court and demand its cancellation.